TOPEKA — Through three games this season, the defensive unit has outshined all the others for the Manhattan High football team.
On Friday night against Highland Park, the Indians’ special teams made their case for some recognition, with return man Mike Settembrino scoring twice to help pace Manhattan in a 63-6 blowout win.
“They just kept kicking to him,” MHS head coach Joe Schartz said, “and the guys in front of him did a nice job of blocking for him and Mike kept finding the end zone on special teams.”
For Settembrino, the game against the Scots was just what he needed to get going.
While senior Bret Fehr has established himself as Kellen Myers’ favorite target in the passing game, Settembrino has found his niche in the return game. Friday, he made all his opportunities count.
The junior receiver took a first-quarter punt 67 yards the other way for a score before capping his day with an 85-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
“He’s getting a lot better, and we take a lot of pride in our special teams,” Schartz said. “We practice them every day and I think it shows, especially in a game like this.”
In addition to two special teams’ scores, the Indians’ defense scored twice on a day when the offense still wasn’t firing on all cylinders.
“They knew that we were wanting to run the ball and they put a lot of pressure up front and a lot of blitzing, but that really shouldn’t give us trouble,” Schartz said. “That’s nothing that we haven’t seen before. I’m disappointed with the way that we’re performing on offense.”
After building a 36-0 halftime lead, Manhattan continued to add to it in the third quarter, scoring on a pair of short-field drives after an onside kick attempt by the Scots to start the quarter and another long punt return by Settembrino on the following possession set them up with short fields.
On the third possession of the half, the JV got in on the action and finished out the game.
Highland Park broke up the shutout with an 80-yard drive in the fourth quarter, capped by a 26-yard pass from Scots’ quarterback Kameron Clark to Miguel Roberts.
Schartz said getting some varsity time for the JV is critical in these games.
“It’s very important,” he said. “We’re looking to develop young players for the future, and when you get in games like this, the kids are so excited to get in and get that varsity action, and it’s a lot of fun to see that excitement in their eyes. I’m proud of our young kids tonight.”
MHS (3-1, 3-0 Centennial League) was led on the ground by Myers, who finished with 60 yards and a touchdown. The senior quarterback also had a 31-yard pass to Fehr for a touchdown. Chris Martin and Darian Taylor each had short touchdowns on the ground, and even sophomore John Chen was able to score on a 22-yard run in the fourth quarter.
The Indians’ defense was able to contain Clark in the running game, by committing more guys to coverage and not bringing as much pressure. Clark finished with just 30 yards rushing.
“The defense played well, and we did what we had to do to contain the quarterback,” Schartz said. “He had a lot of time to throw and that led to a lot of his completions, but we were scared of him scrambling. So we didn’t put a lot of pressure on him and flush him out — we just sat back and played coverage and by doing that we contained their most dangerous threat.”
Manhattan was dominant from start to finish, though only two of its five first-half touchdowns came on offense.
The defense scored twice, the first coming on a 51-yard fumble return by James Kordyak and the second on a 25-yard interception return by Taylor, with Settembrino adding a touchdown on a his 67-yard punt return.
All in all, Schartz was pleased with the victory, though he knows there is still plenty to work on if Manhattan hopes to advance through one of the state’s toughest districts.
“As a football team, we still have some things to clean up and get better at,” Schartz said. “And we’re still struggling to find ways to move the ball on the ground, but I think we’re getting some answers and I think we’re still headed in the right direction as a football team.”