MAIZE — There was a point early in the fourth quarter when the emotions of Friday’s playoff football game against Maize almost got the best of the Manhattan Indians.
With their wheels spinning on offense and facing fourth-and-35 deep in their own territory, the Indians sent the punt team on the field and could just have easily given up.
They didn’t, and instead ended their night celebrating the program’s longest — and perhaps most thrilling — victory, winning 60-59 in the fifth overtime.
“These kids — ever since I’ve known them, they’ve shown tremendous heart,” Manhattan head coach Joe Schartz said. “We have a saying that we talk about from time to time, and the saying is ‘we’re going to fight ‘em ‘til hell freezes over, and then we’re going to fight ‘em on the ice’.
“I don’t know that you can have any other better example of that happening than tonight.”
Manhattan earned the win on a surprise two-point conversion, using the swinging gate play on the point-after, as it had all night, but in lieu of kicking it, snapped it directly to Henry Bieber, who rushed in for a conversion that caught everybody in the stadium — especially the Eagles — off guard.
The play came after Maize started the fifth overtime with an 8-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Connor Lungwitz to Kaven Jobe to take a 59-52 lead. Manhattan would answer right back with a 3-yard touchdown run by Bieber to pull within one.
Schartz said his team was starting to wear down and couldn’t seem to stop the potent Maize passing attack.
“Our kids were starting to get gassed,” he said. “We practice our swinging gate every day in practice. I knew we could do it. We did it one time against Topeka High and Bieber powered it in, and we saw that (Maize defender Nick Benford) was going to be on the right side, and said we’ve got to do it. We snapped it over there and Henry powered into the end zone, and the rest is history.”
The two teams went back and forth in all five of the overtimes. Manhattan was able to run the ball effectively while the Eagles looked to pass almost exclusively. The Indians came the closest to getting a defensive stop, twice forcing third-and-long, but between Manhattan’s multiple pass interference penalties and Maize’s accurate throws, the Indians couldn’t get the game-ending stop.
“We won the toss and definitely wanted to play defense first,” Schartz said. “The defense played great all year, and it got to the point there where it was obvious that both teams were just going to keep scoring.”
While the overtimes proved exciting, nothing about the first three quarters of football made you think it would have such a wild ending, especially after the Indians failed to convert on fourth-and-4 at their own 26-yard line to start the fourth quarter.
But a Chase White fumble at the Manhattan 1-yard line kept Maize from adding to its 24-7 lead, giving the Tribe new life.
Manhattan proceeded to complete an unlikely comeback in the fourth quarter, erasing the 17-point deficit with consecutive touchdowns and a field goal after a night of offensive struggles.
The Indians scored midway through the fourth quarter on a Kellen Myers 11-yard run to make it 24-14, and got the ensuing onside kick. They scored a touchdown six plays later on a 12-yard run by Myers to make it 24-21.
After a quick three-and-out by Maize and a punt into the wind that netted about 15 yards, Manhattan got down to the 11-yard line before stalling, bringing Joseph Trujillo out for a 27-yard field goal to tie the game at 24-24.
The Indians even had a chance to win in regulation, with Trujillo’s wind-aided 57-yard field-goal attempt falling just about 5 yards short. Schartz was unhappy with the way the final seconds unfolded.
“The clock at the end of the game — it’d be an incomplete pass or out of bounds and three or four seconds would continue to come off the clock,” Schartz said. “Joe Trujillo missed that 57-yard field goal by 1 yard. If we’d have had those four seconds, we could have run one more play and it’d been over in regulation.
“We had a lot of adversity many different times tonight, but we kept battling and we found a way to win.”
Myers finished the game with 146 yards on the ground and a touchdown, while throwing for 117 yards despite a tough night with the wind, finishing 12 of 27 with an interception and a touchdown. Ethan Fabrizius scored four touchdowns — three in the overtimes — and ran for 45 yards.
For Maize, Lungwitz was impressive, throwing for 276 yards and four touchdowns, three of which went to Jobe, who finished with 73 receiving yards. Kendall Stewart caught one touchdown, but had nine catches for 160 yards. Manhattan did manage to stop running back Chase White, who finished with 47 yards on 21 carries, going for a loss on six of them.
Despite a shaky first half, Schartz said his offense started to click at just the right time.
“We seem to always offensively come out and test the waters a little bit,” he said. “It takes a little bit of time for our offensive line to get oiled up, and we didn’t move the ball, and the wind in our face was a psychological factor at that point early in the game, but I tell you what, once we got the wind and we were able to throw the ball a little bit, things started clicking.
“Because we were able to pass, it opened up the run game.”
Schartz said the coaches decided to kick into the wind to start the third quarter, so they would have a chance at the end with the wind at their backs.
“That wind was such a psychological factor, and I told the kids exactly what was going to happen,” Schartz said. “We were going to hold on and do the best we can during the third quarter and we were going to win it or tie it up in the fourth quarter with a long field goal. That’s pretty much what happened.”
With a 22-5 disparity in penalties, Schartz made it clear he was unhappy with the officiating, especially on some uncharacteristic mistakes with illegal formations. Schartz said he and his staff kept their heads on straight, however.
“It may have appeared that we were emotional, but we do our best to keep our composure and we were pretty cordial with the refs all night long,” he said. “But I do want to make one point. When we were out of the ballgame, there weren’t too many flags thrown, but once we got back into the ballgame, it seemed like there was a flag every play.
“I don’t know if it’s official or not, but I think we ended up with 22 penalties, so going into next week, that’s something that we obviously need to address as a team. But I think that some of them were questionable calls.”
Early in the game, Manhattan immediately found trouble, with Fabrizius turning the ball over on the first play from scrimmage deep in Indian territory. But Maize couldn’t capitalize, despite having the wind at its back, going three-and-out and missing a 42-yard field goal.
The Eagles would get another chance with a short field after Manhattan turned the ball over on downs after a fake punt attempt came up short on fourth down, giving Maize the ball at the Manhattan 28-yard line. The Indians’ defense came up big, though, grabbing an interception to get the ball back without any damage done.
But without the wind, Manhattan struggled to do much of anything offensively, giving Maize another short field even after a successful punt. The Eagles scored first near the end of the opening quarter on a 1-yard touchdown run by Lungwitz.
In the second quarter, Manhattan got things going through the air with the wind at its back, scoring a touchdown on a 14-play, 84-yard drive capped by Fabrizius’ 9-yard run.
Maize would answer before halftime, however, moving the ball effectively with short passes despite throwing into the wind, ultimately scoring on a 26-yard catch by Jobe with two Indian defenders in the area.
With the hard-fought win, Manhattan (8-2) is rewarded with the chance to host No. 1-seeded Derby (9-1) on Friday at Bishop Stadium. The Panthers beat Wichita North in their playoff opener, 56-7.