With three weeks of games under its belt, the Manhattan High football team has a true sense of what it needs to work on in the coming weeks to be ready to go by the time district games start next month.
With a pair of games more or less won by the solid performance of the defense, Friday’s 7 p.m. tilt with Highland Park in Topeka offers the Indians a chance to establish some much-needed rhythm on offense.
“It’s still up front,” Schartz said of his team’s offensive struggles. “We showed the boys on film against Seaman that the offensive line didn’t execute well. We still haven’t gelled up front, but we had a good practice yesterday and a good film session over the weekend and I think that group is on its way. Against Highland Park, it’ll be good to see if we’re executing better.”
Highland Park (0-3, 0-3 Centennial) finished last season at 1-8, getting its only win in the final game of the season against Topeka West. This season, they’ve been outscored 173-20 through three games.
The Scots are known more for their basketball prowess than their abilities on the gridiron. A 4A school in all other sports, only Hayden, Topeka’s largest Catholic school, has smaller enrollment numbers among Centennial League teams.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for Nick Cummings, their coach,” Schartz said. “He was a senior at Washburn and played fullback when I was a sophomore, so we know each other. Nick is a hard worker and I know he’s doing the best he can at that school.”
Highland Park features Kameron Clark at quarterback this year, replacing Jamon Fulton from last year. A former wide receiver, Clark has speed on his side and is dangerous on broken plays.
“They have a lot of big offensive and defensive linemen and their quarterback is very talented,” Schartz said. “Kameron Clark — he can run the ball and he throws the ball very well and the most dangerous thing about him is his scrambling ability. He can turn a play that is well-defended into a big play for Highland Park if we don’t contain him.”
Once again, Manhattan will have a size mismatch on the offensive and defensive lines.
“They look big,” Schartz said. “They roll a lot of people through on their defensive line. They’ve got a couple of 300-pounders and will be a size mismatch for us.”
For Manhattan (2-1, 2-0), the focus will be improvement on both sides of the ball, though Schartz admitted his defense is playing extremely well.
“We know that we have to improve, and I think we’ve steadily improved,” Schartz said. “The defense has really come around, I’m very proud of the defense. Just in their ability to overcome the size mismatches and not use that as a crutch or an excuse of why they can’t perform. The defense is playing really hard and playing as a unit.”
Schartz is hoping to continue the trend of coming out positive in turnover margin, which has helped fuel two consecutive wins.
“One of the things going into the season that we wanted to do was be plus in the turnover margin,” he said. “Now that the defense is doing a nice job of creating turnovers and getting in the piles and recovering those fumbles, and the offense is doing a better job of protecting the football, it’s coming together.”
The way his defense is playing, Schartz knows the team can win a lot of games if they just take care of the ball and focus on eliminating mistakes.
“I told the boys at practice, if we can stop the silly mistakes and stop beating ourselves, we’ll be tough to beat as a team,” he said. “This week is no different.”