MILLIGAN — Exeter-Milligan/Friend hit Guardian Angels Central Catholic with its 1-2 backfield punch of seniors Edwen Baptista and Mitchell Manning.
Unfortunately, the Bluejays couldn’t counter with their all-state running back Jared Minnick.
Baptista and Manning combined for 347 yards on the ground and all seven Bobcat touchdowns as fourth-ranked EMF posted a 46-12 home victory over the No. 9 Bluejays in the quarterfinals of the Class D-1 football playoffs Tuesday night.
EMF, 11-0 in its first season as a cooperative, advances to play at No. 2 Creighton (11-0) in the semifinals Monday.
Minnick, who has rushed for more than 1,700 yards this season, was on the sidelines in street clothes and on crutches after injuring his hamstring in the first half of the Bluejays’ quarterfinal win over Howells-Dodge.
As valuable as the 6-foot, 190-pound Minnick is offensively, he might’ve been missed even more as a linebacker on defense. The 200-pound Baptista pounded his way for 185 yards on 30 carries before Manning did most of his damage in the fourth quarter with 112 of his 162 yards coming in the final 12 minutes.
Manning had TD runs of 20 and 69 yards in the final period to help EMF pull away after scoring from 5 and 4 yards out earlier. Baptista broke a 48-yard TD run on EMF’s first play from scrimmage and later added runs of 5 and 6 yards into the end zone to help open up a 26-0 advantage early in the third quarter.
“As a linebacker, Jared is awfully good at filling holes, and we missed that tonight,” GACC coach Dave Ridder said. “We knew they’d come at us with a physical running game and we had trouble stopping it all night.”
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Baptista was Friend’s featured back a year ago, and Manning played the same role for Exeter-Milligan in 2017 before being injured in the second game and missing the rest of the season.
Manning primarily plays fullback in EMF’s two-back set, but swings to I-back when Baptista needs a breather.
“Both of those guys accepted their roles, and we’ve come to rely on both of them running the ball,” said Bobcat coach Dean Filipi, who shares head coaching duties with Jim Pfeiffer. “It’s good to see (Manning) running as well as he is right now after being injured last year. Having them both keeps them fresh and makes us tougher to stop.”
Baptista said his 48-yard TD run 16 seconds into it “set the tone for the rest of the game. Our line did a great job opening a hole on that play, and they did it the entire game.
“Once we kept pounding it, we could tell we were wearing them down in the fourth quarter,” Baptista added. “Then it got easier and easier.”
GACC rushed for 164 of its 240 yards in the second half as a pair of third-quarter TDs — a 12-yard run from sophomore quarterback Cody Steffen and a 5-yard run by Noah Hass, Minnick’s replacement in the backfield, kept the Bluejays hanging around at 34-12.
A passing game that produced just 37 yards, however, kept the Bluejays from operating on all cylinders.
“We knew we’d have to be balanced to move the ball and sustain drives and we could never get our passing game going,” Ridder said.