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Lions defense ‘Manns’ up in victory over Fieldston Eagles

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Coming off a lopsided loss in its season opener to King, the Fieldston Eagles took a stroll down the road to take on Horace Mann for the Lions’ homecoming game last Saturday in search of their first victory.

The Lions, too, wanted a notch in the win column after falling victim to Riverdale in their opening game. So something had to give in this battle of neighborhood rivals, and Horace Mann’s defense made sure it was not going to be the Lions.

Horace Mann picked off Fieldston quarterback Stanley Ackerman four times — three of them returned for touchdowns — as the Lions roared past Fieldston 31-9.

“We had an unbelievable work week of preparation,” Lions defensive head coach Ronnie Bellar said. “We were into it, we were playing for each other. The biggest thing is that these guys bought into what we’re selling them and they were prepared.”

Early in the first quarter, Fieldston was driving in what seemed to be their first productive march of the day. But things turned against the Eagles quickly when Lions’ cornerback Matthew Kaufman intercepted Ackerman’s third-down pass, returning it 50 yards for the game’s first score.

“It was surreal, it was like a dream come true,” Kaufman said. “I came into this game with coach telling me that there was going to be a rotation at cornerback, so I wasn’t even sure if I was going to play the entire game. So this one meant a lot to me.”

The fact that his defensive gem came in front of a homecoming day crowd only made it all the more memorable.

“It was my first touchdown and I’ve been playing for four years,” Kaufman said. “To do it on this special day was another dream come true.”

Fieldston finally got on the board just before halftime when Alexander Thorpe converted a field goal to make it 10-3.

Thorpe not only is the team’s kicker and punter, but he also plays running back and linebacker for the Eagles. Understandably, he was drained after the game.

“I’m tired, it’s hot and humid out, and I’m trying to get into every play I can, but it’s tiring,” Thorpe said. “I try to do my best, (but) I can’t play every down.”

Thorpe also lined up at quarterback at times when starter Jesse Cooper-Leary was sidelined with a shoulder injury — a major blow to the Eagles’ efforts.

“It’s a huge loss,” Fieldston coach Gus Ornstein said. “He’s a three-year starter, he runs our offense, he knows the system like the back of his hand. So in terms of getting us in and out of checks, he’s fantastic at reading defenses and finding mismatches.”

But Ornstein would not use Cooper-Leary’s absence as an excuse for the Eagles’ loss.

“We expect the next guy to step up, that’s just kinda how it is in this sport,” Ornstein said. “Somebody goes down, and the next guy has to step up and take over.”

With Ackerman under center for the rest of the game, things only got rockier. But Ornstein believes the game was lost by much more than just the Eagles’ quarterback play.

“It was tough for Stanley today,” Ornstein said. “We couldn’t get our run game going, so a lot more fell on him than I would have ever wanted, and he had a tough day. He’s taking it hard and I feel bad for him, but he has to understand that this is not his loss, it’s not on him.

“We couldn’t run the football, we couldn’t tackle. There’s so much more than how he played. It’s everything, it’s every one of us right now.”

Horace Mann continued to run up the lead as Kamaal Watts returned the game’s second interception for a touchdown.

“I saw the quarterback rolling out,” Watts said. “I watched his eyes and I knew it was a pass. Once I caught it, I had tunnel vision. I was going straight to the house.”

Horace Mann’s Raphael Silverman also got in on the action when he intercepted Ackerman for yet another pick-six.

“I was running pretty slow, because I’m slow,” Silverman said. “But my teammate set a great block and I could just glide into the end zone.”

But despite the dominant performance, Bellar thinks his team still needs to make some defensive improvements.

“I do like that we scored three defensive touchdowns,” Bellar said. “As a defensive guy, I have to be happy about that. But we need to get better and better as the season goes on, and continue to execute like we did today.”

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