It’s still early, but this season has been full of unknowns for Joe Schartz.
The Manhattan High head football coach didn’t know what to expect in Week 1 from his inexperienced bunch against a senior-laden team.
They won convincingly, but now face a team built to play an entirely different style of football. Mill Valley was a ‘finesse team’ on offense — the Emporia Spartans (1-0) are looking to grind.
So how will Manhattan (1-0) fare against a team that plays much the way they do? Schartz doesn’t know — not yet, anyway.
“The thing about this game is, the physicality of it is going to be up a notch from what it was against our first opponent,” Schartz said. “We’re also going to see people that have us on film, and they’ll be able to make adjustments to what we do, so it’s a big challenge.”
The Indians will travel to Emporia Friday for a 7 p.m. kickoff against a familiar foe in the Spartans, only this year, they’re ranked No. 4 in Class 5A and have several top talents, including highly-touted receiver Jerel Morrow, who has orally committed to play football at Oklahoma State.
The Spartans return an experienced and burly offensive line, with their smallest starter listed at 220 pounds and left guard Garin Vandiver listed at 6-foot-6, 300 pounds. Needless to say, the defensive front four will have their work cut out for them in the trenches.
“It’s going to be totally different than last week,” Schartz said. “We faced a finesse offense last week and this is just going to be right at ya, right now. They’re going to try and pound us and wear us down and beat us in the fourth quarter.
“Our defense has a tremendous challenge ahead of them.”
Supposing Manhattan manages to slow down the Spartan running game, which is led by quarterback Braxton Marstall, Emporia has plenty of options through the air. Both Morrow and receiver JL Savage are a threat to go deep at any time, meaning loading the box against the run is a dangerous move.
“If we can’t slow them down up front with their run game,” he said, “then you have to commit more people to it, and then they have these fantastic receivers.”
Emporia’s strength under third-year coach Dustin Delaney has never been defense. So outscoring Emporia is always an option, though Schartz expects the Spartans’ defense to be tougher than what they saw last weekend.
“We had a lot of success with our counter play last week, and we did execute it well,” Schartz said. “But I’ve got a lot of respect for Emporia’s coaching staff and players and they’ll definitely play that play a lot tougher than what we faced last Friday.”
In the end, it will be up to the Indians’ defense to slow down Emporia. Shawnee Heights managed to do it, but still lost 27-21 in the season opener last week. Giving up as much size as they will on the defensive line, it may come down to how the Manhattan secondary plays and if they can come up with big stops or turnovers.
Emporia will have the luxury of playing in front of its home crowd for the first time this season, though Schartz isn’t concerned with making the trip.
“This is a new team, but in years past, typically we travel well, especially to Topeka or Emporia,” he said. “They aren’t that long of a trip, and sometimes it’s beneficial. The kids get the chance to get away from family and friends after school while they’re on the bus and get focused a little bit.
“We usually travel pretty well, so knock on wood, hopefully the trip won’t hurt us any.”