Highland Park’s trip to Manhattan couldn’t come at a better time for the Manhattan Indians.
After a disappointing, but predictable start to the year, the Indians’ need a confidence boost, especially on offense. The Scots, coming off three straight blowout losses, should be just what the doctor ordered.
The loss to Topeka Seaman, and the manner in which Manhattan lost, had to have taken a toll on team morale. The Indians had what felt like a hundred chances to turn the tide in the second half against Seaman and they couldn’t get it done.
That’s not to say the Vikings aren’t a good team. They’re what head coach Joe Schartz calls a “quality opponent”, and losing to them, as Topeka Hayden and Junction City did in the first two weeks of the season, is nothing to be ashamed of.
But let’s face it, they’re not world beaters either. Seaman will make the playoffs this year in part because of a weak district that features both Highland Park and Topeka West.
Manhattan’s chance at a playoff spot figures to be a tougher draw, with undefeated Topeka High looking like the favorite to win District 5. That leaves Washburn Rural, Junction City and Manhattan to duke it out for second. With all three teams at an underwhelming 1-2 after the first three weeks, it’s still anybody’s to take.
That’s not to say Topeka High has anything nailed down, either.
They’ve had the benefit of playing Highland Park and Topeka West already this season, as well as a Topeka Hayden team that is good, but down when compared to previous years. The tests for the Trojans will come in a couple weeks, when they play Seaman and Emporia in back-to-back games.
For Manhattan and its inexperienced starters, none of that stuff matters — the focus is inward.
“It’s never been about anybody else but us,” Schartz said. “The schedule is what it is, and going into every week, our goal has been to try and get better. I think we made that step last week, but we want to try and do that again this week.”
Taking that step against the Scots is a very attainable goal. Highland Park puts up a fair amount of points and yards, even against good defenses, but they also turn the ball over at a rate indicative of an 0-3 team. Quarterback Jamon Fulton has six interceptions, three of which went the other way for touchdowns.
But it may take more than just a romp against an overmatched opponent to get over the Seaman loss.
“Of course we took the loss hard, but to me as a coach, that tells me that they care,” Schartz said. “They care about their performance and they care about the program, and they’ll work hard to represent the program the way that it should be.”
Schartz makes a good point in that getting better is the only goal at this point in the season. Wins are great, and they’re certainly more fun than losses, but at the end of the day, the three games at the end of the regular season are the only ones that matter at this point.
“The way the playoff system is in Kansas, basically they give you six weeks to get it right,” he said. “So when we get to district time, hopefully we’re firing on all cylinders. Hopefully we’ll have some kinks worked out and be ready to go.”
It’s hard to tell at this point whether or not Manhattan can turn into a playoff team. They have plenty of room to grow, and plenty of athletic, talented players short on experience but with high ceilings.
Turning them into winners is the key, and will be Schartz’s focus from here until November.
“There’s nothing we can do about the schedule,” he said. “We just have to get better everyday at practice and every week.”