Manhattan head football coach Joe Schartz knows it will take a special effort from his team to upset the top-seeded Derby Panthers in the second round of the Class 6A playoffs Friday night at Bishop Stadium.
The Panthers are riding a nine-game winning streak after dropping their season opener to Salina South in which they’ve won games by an average of 41 points. Their closest game since the opening loss came two weeks ago against Wichita Heights in a 28-6 win that was really never in doubt.
“Other than the first week, I think the most anybody has put up on them is 14 points. Salina Central might have done that, in Week 4,” Schartz said. “They’ve been blowing everybody out since — they’re definitely a good football team.
“I hope that we come out and play well, because we’re going to have to play well to have a chance.”
Salina South offers the only blueprint for beating the Panthers this season, winning 41-35 in Week 1. The Cougars took a 28-7 lead and held on in the end after the Panthers roared back into the game with 21 second-half points to tie it, before South managed one final touchdown after a fumble recovery in Derby territory.
The Cougars were able to capitalize on a pair of Derby fumbles, one going 31 yards the other way for a scoop-and-score.
So like most weeks, winning the turnover battle is a big key for the Indians, in addition to another solid defensive performance.
“We need to play as a unit as we have all year long,” Schartz said. “It has to be team defense and we have to get a lot of people to the football. And when we do get matched up in a one-on-one situation, we’ll have to make a play on the ball in the secondary.
“It’s really no different — our defense has done a great job all year long and this is another big challenge for them. But I have confidence in them that they’re going to come out and perform well.”
At quarterback, the Panthers feature 6-foot-3, 190-pound senior Jeremy Dunham, who has the ability to run and pass.
“The difference between this week and last week is (Maize quarterback) Connor Lungwitz did not run the ball,” Schartz said. “Dunham’s played most of the year, and he is a quarterback that is a threat to run the ball. To us, defensively, that’s the most difficult offense to defend, when the quarterback is a run threat.”
The Panthers have also been mixing in transfer Caleb Arnold, who came over from Garden Plain. Arnold has seen time at running back and quarterback.
At running back, sophomore Garrett Xanders has shouldered the load the last two games while senior Tyler West has nursed an ankle injury. Schartz said the team is preparing for everyone they think might play.
“Garrett Xanders has filled in quite nicely, then Arnold has played some running back,” Schartz said. “I expect West to be back — he’s been out a couple weeks and has had time to rest that ankle.”
Derby also features a 6-foot-5, 225-pound tight end in DeAndre Goolsby, who recently committed to play college football at Florida, though Schartz is expecting the Panthers to primarily run the ball.
“It all starts with their run game offensively,” he said. “Their offensive line is all seniors, with a lot of experience, and they’re very good. They start with the run game, and are a lot like us, they work in the play-action pass when you try to get your safeties involved to stop the run.”
Defensively, Derby has been solid all year. Even with the 41 points allowed in Week 1, the Panthers have allowed an average of 11.4 points per game. The unit features standouts in safety Travis Young (6-1, 205 lbs.) and linebacker Jose Delgado (5-10, 190 lbs.).
The Indians, who have struggled at times offensively, will have to be opportunistic and must take care of the football.
“We’re going to continue to do the things that we do, but that’s where option football is so important,” Schartz said. “Anytime that you have people that are difficult to block, the philosophy is, hopefully they’re easy to read. We’re going to use our option run game to give us some advantages, and hopefully we can get them to be over-aggressive and then we can utilize our play-action pass.”
Manhattan and Derby have only ever met in the playoffs, with the Panthers owning a decisive edge in the series with a 5-2 record. The Indians did beat them in the first round of the playoffs in 2010, 47-28, but lost the following year 39-28. Several of Derby’s seniors played as sophomores in the 2011 game.