TOPEKA — With just five punts all night, most would think Friday’s game between the Manhattan High football team and Washburn Rural was an old-fashioned offensive shootout.
They’d be wrong.
Instead it was five fumbles, three missed fourth-down conversions and a missed field goal leading to plenty of yards for both teams, but just a 13-10 win for the Indians.
The win moves Manhattan (7-1, 6-0 Centennial) into sole possession of first place in the District 5 standings at 2-0, with Topeka High and Junction City both at 1-1.
In a low-scoring game that was close all night, Manhattan squeaked out the win, coming out on top after a back-and-forth fourth quarter that helped make up for the lack of scoring the rest of the night.
After nearly two and a half quarters without a score from either team, Manhattan got a touchdown on a 6-yard pass to Ethan Fabrizius from Kellen Myers to take a 13-3 lead with 4:50 to play.
But Rural wasn’t done, despite struggling in the red zone all night. The Junior Blues drove 75 yards, 50 of which came through the air on passes to Tyler Palmer, to make it 13-10 on a 7-yard touchdown run by Michael Singer with 2:40 to play.
“I was pleased with the defense the entire night,” Manhattan head coach Joe Schartz said. “They played great. They were disappointed to give up that touchdown there at the end. We felt like we had the right call for that, but sometimes when you play good teams, they can put the ball in the end zone anyway.”
On the ensuing drive, the Indians got enough yards from their power-run game to run out the clock, with punter Jonah Webber scrambling on fourth-and-18 to use up the final 3.8 seconds left in the game.
In the end, Schartz was pleased with his offense, which had to battle against a stout Rural defense that switched things up from what they’d done in previous games.
“They switched up their defensive look, and it took away a lot of our read game and our option game,” Schartz said. “We had to rely on our power run game, and we did just enough there at the end to find a way to be successful and find a way to win.”
Chris Martin finished with 102 yards on 16 carries to pace the offense, with Fabrizius carrying more of the offensive load with 82 yards on 11 carries.
“Ethan has really come on, on both sides of the ball,” Schartz said. “He’s a great communicator in the secondary. It just seems like every time he gets the ball in his hands offensively, he runs with a lot of power and a lot of pride.”
Myers finished the night 4 for 11 in the passing game with 65 yards and a score, though he had a touchdown come off the board due to an illegal block in the back.
“They limited what we could do on the ground,” Schartz said, “and we felt like we had some good things through the air, and we wanted to take advantage of them early.”
Singer led the way for Rural, carrying the ball 27 times for 97 yards. Peterson was 4 for 8 through the air for 69 yards.
“Our defense played very well to be able to stand up to that challenge of their big offensive line and powerful running attack,” Schartz said. “It was quite impressive — to give up only 10 points is a great achievement.
“They were able to move the ball, but we really stiffened in the red zone and kept them out time after time — that was really the ball game.”
The two teams both struggled in the red zone en route to a 7-0 halftime lead for Manhattan. The score remained the same until midway through the fourth quarter, when Rural’s Perry Schmiedeler hit a 35-yard field goal to cap a 14-play drive that started in the third quarter.
Manhattan opened the game with a defensive stop and a 73-yard touchdown pass to Winston Dimel from Myers, but it was called back for all but 27 yards because of an illegal block in the back.
But Fabrizius scored just two plays later on a play that looked like he’d be tackled for a short gain. Instead, he managed to stay on his feet along the sideline for a 38-yard score and a 7-0 Manhattan lead.
From there, both offenses labored but couldn’t turn that work into points because of good defense and offensive mistakes. In the first half, the two teams amassed a combined total of 229 yards but only seven points between them.
Manhattan turned the ball over on downs in Rural territory twice and missed a field goal, while Rural turned it over on downs just once, but had two fumbles and a drive-killing 19-yard sack to pin the team at its 1-yard line.
Cox 22 broadcasts game
In addition to playoff indications, Friday’s game was made more significant by a state-wide telecast by Cox Cable 22. The broadcast delayed the start of the game by eight minutes.
One major difference in the action was the addition of media timeouts, similar to those seen on most football telecasts.
“It’s really beneficial,” Schartz said of the extra timeouts. “It just gives you more time to talk to your kids. Normally you get three timeouts per half, and change of possession and things like that. But there were several times tonight the TV timeouts were beneficial, we had extra time to talk to our kids.”