TOPEKA — With five touchdowns and more than 300 yards of offense, the first quarter at Hummer Sports Park Friday had all the makings of a good-old-fashioned shootout.
Then came the rain.
Amidst a second-quarter downpour, both Manhattan and Topeka High started playing defense, with Manhattan leading 20-13. Neither team would score again until Darian Taylor’s 8-yard touchdown run in the final seconds that gave the Indians a larger cushion should a playoff spot come down to a tiebreaker.
After such a high-scoring first quarter, a 27-13 final didn’t seem likely.
“We don’t want shootouts,” MHS head coach Joe Schartz said. “The way the game started is not what we want. We always like for our defense to settle in and keep us in the game and they really did that in the second half.”
No lightning was spotted during the second-quarter storm that moved through the area, so the teams played through it, albeit without much grace. Snaps were fumbled, passes were dropped and tackles were missed.
Schartz said he noticed a change in the game once the rain started falling.
“It was strange,” he said. “I don’t think I can put into words what the rain did, because up until that point it was all offense. Both offenses were just going up and down the field and after the rain came, so did the defense.
“I was proud of the way our defense stepped up in the second half of the game.”
Manhattan did get at least one good defensive play in the first quarter, as Topeka High fumbled the ball on the second play from scrimmage, giving the Indians a short field and a quick lead when quarterback Jacob Holloway ran it in from 24 yards out.
But Topeka High answered right back, driving 66 yards and scoring on a 3-yard run from Eli Weinbrecht to tie the game.
Manhattan answered four plays later with a 41-yard run from Taylor to make it 13-7 before Trojans’ quarterback Raymond Solis connected with Alec Beatty for a 50-yard touchdown pass that tied the game with 5:20 still remaining in the opening quarter.
Manhattan took the lead for good in the following series with a 53-yard drive capped by a 16-yard diving catch from Holloway to tight end Winston Dimel for a 20-13 lead.
Taylor’s late touchdown drew the ire of some Topeka High fans, but because of the way playoff spots are awarded, margin of victory — up to 13 points each game — can become very important.
“I know a lot of the people in the stands might not have understood what was going on, but the way the playoff rules are, that next tiebreaker is points,” Schartz said. “So we had to get our 13 points. That last touchdown was crucial.”
Schartz said earlier in the week that turnovers might decide Friday’s game, but the two teams came out even in that regard. Manhattan lost three fumbles while Topeka High had two fumbles and an interception. While the weather certainly didn’t help, Schartz didn’t think that was the only reason both teams struggled with giveaways.
“I don’t know if the weather really had anything to do with it,” he said. “Maybe it did. It was just a great football game and kids are playing with a lot of intensity and making plays and sometimes the ball squirts loose.”
Taylor, who finished with a team-high 94 yards and two touchdowns was responsible for one of those fumbles after taking a nasty hit trying to stretch and convert on a fourth-and-short opportunity.
“He did a real nice job,” Schartz said of Taylor. “He really got down on himself with that last fumble on that fourth-down play, but he kept his head up and came back in and did a nice job for us scoring that last touchdown.”
Holloway rushed for 76 yards and threw for 106 yards while scoring two touchdowns. Dimel finished with five catches for 83 yards and a score.
Topeka High was led on the ground by Weinbrecht with 102 yards, while Solis threw for 195, with Beatty hauling in six catches for 148 yards.
Now 1-0 in district play, the Indians proved they still have the talent to challenge for a district crown, toppling the favorite in the first week. But Schartz knows laying an egg against Washburn Rural — a 39-19 loser to Junction City Friday — this week would undo all the progress his team made in its district opener.
“This is a three-game season,” he said, “and we’ve played one game.”