They say football is a game of inches.
For the Manhattan Indians Friday night, that statement is a painful reality.
Topeka Seaman held on for a 21-20 road win over Manhattan, despite neither team scoring in the fourth quarter.
Late in the final period, after holding Seaman on third-and-short, the Vikings opted to go for it on fourth-and-1. Fullback Nathan Stanley shook free from a Manhattan tackler and landed forward, getting just enough yardage to end the Indians’ chances at a comeback.
“It’s a game of inches and we came up a couple inches short,” MHS head coach Joe Schartz said. “We have to get back to work and make up those few inches.”
After a first half that saw 35 points scored, it seemed fans were in for a shootout Friday night. But the defenses both adjusted at half, with Manhattan’s lone touchdown the only second-half score in a game that was played mostly on the ground, not through the air.
Both quarterbacks were their team’s leading rushers, with Manhattan’s Jacob Holloway finishing with 147 yards while Seaman’s Butch Rea finished with 113. Darian Taylor, who took the bulk of the carries alongside Holloway at running back, finished with 45 yards.
“He’s a good football player,” Schartz said of Taylor. “We needed Darian on the football field. I think it’s obvious that when he’s in there, we’re a better football team.”
Manhattan scored midway through the third quarter on a 13-yard pass from Holloway to Logan Clark, but couldn’t convert on the extra point, leaving a 21-20 deficit that would prove to be the difference.
To be fair, Manhattan had its chances.
The Indians’ defense forced a turnover-on-downs after holding Rea to no gain on two consecutive plays late in the fourth quarter.
But Manhattan was unable to come up with a first down, much less the substantial amount of yards needed to put it in field goal range. With just minutes remaining on the clock and facing fourth-and-6, Schartz elected to punt.
The high punt by Jonah Webber caused returner Joe Reagan to signal for a fair catch, but the ball bounced directly off his helmet and into the hands of teammate Tyler Bushnell, giving Seaman possession.
The Indians defense held, however, leaving Seaman with a decision on fourth-and-1. A first down was all they needed to end the game, and that’s exactly what Stanley delivered in his only carry of the second half.
“They initially stopped him,” Seaman coach Blake Pierce said of Stanley, “and he just had the fortitude to get the extra yardage for the first down.”
Schartz noted that several things could have made up the difference in the second half.
“There’s a lot of balls bouncing around and a lot of things happening that went their way by a couple inches,” Schartz said. “They made a couple fourth downs — we had them stopped and let them push forward, then we missed a fourth and short, so if we convert on any of those, it could be a different game.”
Reagan, the Class 5A sprint champion as a freshman in track last season, was tough for the Indians to catch up to, catching a ball in the flat from Rea and scoring 57 yards later along the sideline in the first quarter. The sophomore also racked up 54 yards on the ground.
“It’s nice when we can get him the ball,” Pierce said. “He has that ability, sometimes when the hole’s not there, to bounce it and still make yardage. That goes against how I like our backs to run the ball, but when you have that speed, you can’t refuse it.”
In the first half, neither defense could get much going as the offenses went up and down the field with ease.
Seaman took a 21-14 lead to halftime after scoring with 2 minutes to play in the second quarter and not leaving much time for Holloway and the Indian offense.
In the end, despite another loss, Schartz was pleased with his team’s resolve after a tough loss last week.
“I’m proud of the boys,” he said. “After last week, we asked them to bounce back and play better, and that’s what they did.”