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Late touchdown, defense carries Indians past Emporia

By Grant Guggisberg

Manhattan High head football coach Joe Schartz knew his defense would have to put together a special performance for the Indians to win Friday night against Emporia.

Even he couldn’t have predicted this.

Despite scoring only six points in a forgettable offensive effort, Manhattan managed to pull out a win against the Spartans, winning 6-3 in a game that went down to the wire after three and a half quarters of defensive dominance.

Manhattan scored a touchdown on a 20-yard run by Chris Martin with 3:15 to play in the fourth quarter, giving them a 6-3 lead after a blocked extra point attempt.

The Indian defense, which played well all night, was able to hold on the final three minutes.

“If we were going to have a chance to win the game, that’s the way it was going to have to be,” Schartz said. “We’ve had a little bit of transition on the offensive side of the ball, and we’re getting better, but we’re not there on the offensive side of the ball. The defense was going to have to carry us.”

While the defense gave up some yards, they managed to keep the Spartans from scoring a touchdown, while also limiting the Emporia play-action passing game.

“The defensive coaches implemented a good game plan,” Schartz said. “We got a lot of people to the football all night, and that’s what it takes to stop an option attack. They played really well all night long, and anytime you give up just three points to Emporia, it’s a heck of a job.”

With less than a minute to play, Manhattan had the opportunity to end the game with Emporia facing fourth and 14 at midfield. The pass was broken up with the Indians’ James Kordyak providing heavy pressure on Spartan quarterback Tanner Taylor, who replaced starter Braxton Marstall after an injury early in the fourth quarter.

Instead, pass interference was called, giving the Spartans new life.

Facing fourth and 8, they brought on kicker Lane Brewer, who kicked a 30-yard field goal in the first half. This time, Brewer came up short on the 44-yard attempt, securing the Indian victory.

Helping fuel the Indian comeback were a couple of key plays early in the fourth quarter. Emporia was set to punt deep in its own territory, but a low, bouncing snap proved tough to handle for backup punter Parker Bass, who was in for the injured Marstall. Officials ruled his knee touched the ground when he picked up the ball, so Manhattan took over at the Emporia 25-yard line.

But the Indians went backward on their first play after a bad snap, bringing up second and 22. Facing fourth and 12, Myers threw to Bret Fehr in the flat, who then threw it back to a wide-open Myers on the other side of the field for a 25-yard gain that set up first and goal.

But the play was called back, with officials ruling that the original pass to Fehr was a forward pass. The result was a loss of down and a 5-yard penalty, giving the ball back to Emporia.

After a three-and-out by Emporia, Manhattan got the ball back near midfield and scored the go-ahead touchdown six plays later.

Martin finished the night with 50 yards and a touchdown on seven attempts, accounting for more than half of Manhattan’s 92 total offensive yardage in the game. His best run of the night came on his touchdown run, which included a facemask that was assessed on the ensuing kickoff

“I got facemasked, and at first I thought the play was done because I heard the whistle,” Martin said. “But I just kept running, and it was a touchdown.”

Kellen Myers, making his first start at quarterback, finished 5 of 8 through the air with 44 yards. He finished with -9 yards rushing on 10 attempts, though long sacks and bad snaps accounted for 43 negative yards against him.

“That was Kellen’s first start as a varsity quarterback,” Schartz said. “He’s a competitor, and a sharp kid, and he did a nice job of leading us tonight. The thing I’m most proud of is when things weren’t going well, he never hung his head, we just kept battling.”

Emporia fared better offensively, but couldn’t capitalize on its scoring chances. Nick Rodriguez picked up 88 yards on 20 carries filling in for injured fullback Cody Campbell, with Cody Swanson adding 26 yards on the ground.

Marstall and Taylor combined to finish 5 of 10 through the air for 79 yards.

The first half saw both teams struggle to move the ball, especially the Indians.

Manhattan ended the half with just 17 offensive yards to their credit after a 22 yard loss on a bad snap and mixed results in the rushing game.

Emporia, on the other hand, managed 102 yards against the Indian defense, most of which came on its 21-play, 75-yard drive in the second quarter that resulted in the lone score of the half, Brewer’s 30-yard field goal.

Manhattan finished the game without a turnover and had just two penalties, the first coming on the trick play in the fourth quarter, and the second coming on the pass interference call in the closing seconds.

“It’s much better than before,” Schartz said. “But we still have a long way to go. I don’t like the ball to ever be on the ground. We had a few mishandled snaps and bad snaps, and they could have proven costly, but we were fortunate to get out of here with a win.”

Turf donors recognized

Manhattan High administrators recognized seven major contributors to the turf project at Bishop Stadium in a short ceremony at midfield during halftime. This was Manhattan’s first chance to host a football game on the new field.

The donors included Olsson Associates, Tindall Orthodontics, Steel & Pipe Supply, Manhattan Surgical Hospital, Dick Edwards Auto. Also recognized were Jason Hilgers and Mark Bachamp, who initiated the fundraising campaign 18 months ago and helped secure the major donors for the project. The USD 383 Board of Education also contributed $200,000, $40,000 over five years, to supplement the fundraising efforts for the $803,000 project.

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