After losing in successive weeks to undefeated, quality opponents, the Manhattan High football team is ready for another shot at redemption.
Hosting Highland Park (0-3) at Bishop Stadium should give the Indians plenty of confidence.
The Manhattan offense has struggled this year in its two losses, but should be fine against the Scots’ defense — a unit giving up an average of more than 50 points per game.
Because of the defensive scheme Highland Park runs, which is geared to stop the rushing game at all costs, MHS coach Joe Schartz expects his team will have to throw the ball Friday.
“Emporia, we know how good of a rushing offense they have, but they took what was there with their talented receivers and man coverage and threw for 300 yards,” he said. “So, they try to stop the run, which is a good philosophy in high school football.”
Getting the passing game going will be tougher this week with receiver Bret Fehr out with a shoulder injury.
“He’ll be out for a couple weeks — hopefully we can get him healthy for districts,” Schartz said. “So we’re a bit limited in our receiving corps. Emporia had the luxury of having two quality receivers, so it’s definitely going to be a challenge.”
Fehr’s injury combined with the tough run defense could be the perfect recipe for big games from senior transfers Devin Cossman and Tony Daniels, who have the necessary speed to get past one-on-one coverage and score on big plays. Winston Dimel and Logan Clark have also proved to be reliable targets for quarterback Jacob Holloway.
“They take away a lot of things, but they give you a few things too,” Schartz said of the Scots’ defense. “So, you’re going to have to take advantage of what they give you. That’s what Emporia did last week.
“We’re going to have to be able to throw the ball a little bit to keep them honest.”
The Highland Park offense features quarterback Jerome Fulton and the passing game.
“Their offense is geared around their quarterback,” Schartz said. “I think they threw the ball 58 times against Washburn Rural. The last two weeks (combined), they’ve thrown it over 100 times.”
Perhaps the toughest part about defending against the Scots’ aerial attack is the matchup at receiver. Manhattan’s defensive backs will have their hands full against Highland Park receivers O’Shai Clark (6-foot-3, 185 pounds) and Shafee Carr (6-foot-4, 220 pounds).
Fulton has a tendency to loft the ball in the general direction of his sizeable receivers and let them go up and get it, which has resulted in some turnovers.
“I think he’s thrown at least three interceptions to linebackers for touchdowns,” he said. “But he tries to throw it deep and puts a lot of air underneath it.”
Fulton is the team’s leading rusher, averaging about 85 yards a game. But in the Centennial League, he trails only Emporia’s Braxton Marstall in total passing yards with 118 per game, but does have six interceptions in three games.
The Scots’ don’t have the kind of depth that Manhattan enjoys, but under second-year coach Nick Cummings, that’s starting to change.
“Coach Cummings does a very good job with that football team — they’re getting better all the time,” he said. “A lot of them play both ways. He has 36 players on his roster, but he gets the most out of them.”
After a pair of tough losses, getting a winless Scots’ team at home, no matter how much they’ve improved, comes at a good time for a team searching for confidence.
Friday’s game is scheduled to kick off at 7 p.m. at Bishop Stadium. Fans that can’t attend the game can find live streaming video and play-by-play on The Mercury’s website— http://www.themercury.com.