He doesn’t know why, but Manhattan High head football coach Joe Schartz knows his team has always struggled offensively against Washburn Rural.
Of course, struggle is a relative term.
Manhattan has defeated Washburn Rural the last 18 times the teams have played. The last time Manhattan lost to the Junior Blues in football came in 1992 in a 19-6 loss while Lew Lane was still head coach.
But Schartz recognizes that his team typically has trouble scoring the ball against Rural, even in years when the difference in talent should result in a much bigger win for the Indians.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” Schartz said. “For some reason we’ve always struggled to move the ball against Washburn Rural — it’s always been a low-scoring game. We’re going to have to do something on offense when we get the chance, because our defense has such a challenge ahead of them.”
The Indians are set to take on Rural (5-2, 5-1 Centennial League) in Topeka in the second district game of the year.
Making things more challenging this season is a change at the top of the Rural program in the hiring of Steve Buhler as head coach. The longtime Rossville coach essentially switched jobs with former Rural coach Derick Hammes, who replaced him at Rossville.
Schartz said facing a new coach is always tough regardless of circumstance.
“We’ve been studying a lot of film,” Schartz said. “It’s always different every time you get a new head coach, you can’t rely on things that have happened in the past. It has definitely been a little bit of change in philosophy, and we’ve been studying film to try and get a grasp on what exactly Coach Buhler wants to do with his team.”
After losing to Junction City 42-35 to start district play, the Junior Blues appear to be all offense and no defense. But the score is a little bit misleading.
The Junior Blues made a pair of key mistakes that went the other way for touchdowns, including a 95-yard interception return and a fumble in their own end zone. Wipe those away and it changes the game considerably, especially considering Rural was in the red zone when quarterback Blake Peterson threw the pick-six.
“I know Junction City beat them last week, but Washburn Rural was able to amass 27 first downs against them,” Schartz said. “They’re able to move the chains and keep the ball away from the opposing team’s offense.”
Especially considering the loss of linebacker Chandler Kayser to injury in Week 1, the Rural offense appears to be the strength of the team. Along with dangerous players at the skill positions, Rural has one of the biggest offensive lines MHS (6-1, 6-0) will see all season.
Earl Mariner is back for his senior year and stands at 6-foot-4, 300 pounds. The Junior Blues also have Romney Tuiloma at 6-feet, 290 pounds and Quinn Mittermeier at 6-6, 260.
“They have extreme size,” Schartz said. “They use that size well on their offense and they do a lot of double tight-end sets and try to control the clock and run the football. And they’ve been very successful at it.”
Last year the team juggled its quarterback situation between Peterson and Michael Singer. This year, Peterson won the job and Singer is used as a running back.
“I would say their most dangerous threat on offense is Michael Singer,” Schartz said. “He’s a senior who has played quarterback in the past, but he’s got speed. The surprising thing that happened last week was Peterson ran for 122 yards against Junction. They’ve been making progress on offense.”
While Manhattan’s defense will be tested against the Junior Blues, Schartz is hoping his offense can take advantage of a defense that has had to do some shuffling because of injury.
“They’ve been in a little bit of transition on defense, trying to fill in some gaps because of injury,” Schartz said. “They still are a tough defense and it’s going to be a challenge for us to put points on the board.”
Kick off in Topeka is set for 7 p.m.