JUNCTION CITY — If there was any doubt about the intensity of the rivalry between Junction City and Manhattan, Friday night’s 34-33 win by the Blue Jays put it to rest.
Junction City needed to win by 13 or more to force a three-way tie in the District 5 standings and give it a chance to advance into the playoffs. Down by six points late in the fourth quarter, that clearly wasn’t going to happen. So Blue Jay’s coach Randall Zimmerman opted to play for the Silver Trophy.
“I think at that point, we knew the game was about the trophy, and that’s what we were playing for,” Manhattan coach Joe Schartz said. “We shot ourselves in the foot with a couple turnovers once we did take control of the game, and gave them some short fields and put our defense in a tough situation.”
With nothing to play for but pride, the Blue Jays managed to squeak out one last touchdown with 20 seconds remaining on a 3-yard run by Jovan Toles. James Denton’s extra point gave Junction City a 34-33 lead and ultimately won his team the trophy, with Manhattan’s attempts to score falling well short as time expired.
“The kids played their hearts out,” Schartz said. “We asked them to put it on their line, and they did. Sometimes you come up short in these types of games, and we did. But that’s a Junction City-Manhattan football game, at least the last several years, we knew it was going to come down to the end and this year we fell a little bit short.”
The silver lining for Manhattan is even with the loss, they move on to the playoffs as District 5 champions. They’ll host Dodge City next week in a playoff game at Bishop Stadium. But for the seniors, who were 3-0 in three years against Junction City, losing this one hurts, especially considering they’ll now settle for just a four-way share of the Centennial League title.
“The seniors, they fought their hearts out, and they’re devastated,” he said. “But I told them, normally in a situation like this, we’re in here saying goodbye, but that’s not the case. In the game of football, you get knocked down. You have no other choice but to pick yourself back up.”
For Junction City and Zimmerman, winning the trophy is a nice way to end the year, but he still would have liked to see his team compete for a playoff spot, which seemed likely after a first half that saw Junction City take a 21-6 lead.
“It’s nice, but we’ve had a tough season,” Zimmerman said of the win. “These guys have had to battle through a lot this year, and it hasn’t been easy.”
Zimmerman was especially disappointed given how well his team played in the first half. After halftime, the Blue Jays gave up three unanswered touchdowns that all but ended their hopes at a playoff berth, while floundering on offense and struggling with penalties.
“We didn’t come out ready to play in the second half,” Zimmerman said. “We were out there sleepwalking on defense while they drive it 75 yards for a touchdown. Penalties hurt us too. That unsportsmanlike that backed us up a bunch really hurt us, and that’s not the character of this team.”
For Manhattan, setting the tone in the third quarter was paramount to ensuring the Indians’ four-peat as district champs.
“We deferred and got the ball first in the second half, and it was key that we came out and capitalized on that,” he said. “We started moving the ball on the ground, almost at will, and took control of the ballgame.
“We made a few adjustments (at half), and the kids listen and they executed well.”
Early on, it looked as if Junction City would run away with it.
JC led 14-0 after two quick scores in the first quarter, and led 21-6 late in the second quarter. MHS desperately needed a score before halftime and got started on its own 15-yard line, but drove the length of the field, capping the 18-play drive with a pass from Jacob Holloway to Devin Cossman from 17 yards out and just 36 seconds on the clock.
Holloway led the Indians on the ground with 183 yards, with Darian Taylor adding 119. Junction City was led by Toles, who had 34 carries for 113 yards.
Schartz said that with this game over, Manhattan must now find a way to regroup after such a demoralizing loss.
“It’s going to be a huge challenge for these young men to come back,” he said. “But we’re still together as a team.”