If the Manhattan High football team wants to win a share of the Centennial League championship, they’ll have to defeat one of the toughest teams on its schedule.
The Indians host Topeka High at 7 p.m. on Friday at Bishop Stadium to start the district portion of the schedule, which will decide which teams make the playoffs and which teams stay home.
Win or lose Friday, the Trojans have already clinched a share of the title.
In a loaded district, the winner of Friday’s game will have a substantial leg up on the quest to make the playoffs, while the loser will most likely need two wins in the following weeks to have much of a chance.
“I think we’re ready for a challenge, and we’ve opened up with Topeka High at the beginning of districts for quite a few years in a row now,” Manhattan head coach Joe Schartz said. “It’s a great time of the year to see exactly what type of football team you are, and it’s the time of year you need to be playing good football.”
Manhattan will have its hands full against the Trojans, who have stayed undefeated behind the strong play of quarterback Alec Beatty and running back Austin Tillman. Topeka High likes to play a hurry-up offense that has worn down teams late in games and allowed them to win some close ones.
The Trojans came from behind to beat Emporia a week ago, and had a single-digit win against Hayden.
Topeka High will have plenty of size advantage up front, with an offensive line that averages 290 pounds
“Not only do they have the size up front with their offensive line, they have three talented running backs — four if you include the quarterback Beatty, which he’s one of their major threats on the ground as well,” Schartz said. “It’ll be difficult with just that alone, with their talent and size. But also they like to go up-tempo, so we could be facing a play every 10 to 15 seconds, so it’s going to be quite a challenge for the defense. We’ve stood up to every challenge so far this year, it’ll be interesting to see if we can stand up to this one.”
Schartz said the scout team has done their best to replicate the speed of the Trojans.
“We try to go up-tempo with our scout,” Schartz said. “It’s difficult to give that type of look, but it comes down to our senior leadership on defense and their ability to communicate and get lined up and understand the situation and not get beat before the ball is snapped.”
With Beatty and Tillman, the Trojans have a one-two punch that opposing defenses have struggled with. The two also are play makers on defense.
“No. 1, they’re great leaders and they give their team confidence,” Schartz said. “As they go, so does the entire football team. Beatty plays the majority of the time at free safety and he’s a great communicator and great leader and makes a ton of plays back there. Austin Tillman is a linebacker, and if you’re going to gain yards, you have to block him, which is not easy to do.”
Schartz said he expects a low-scoring defensive battle. Both teams will look to establish their running game before taking to the air. Should the game start to tilt in favor of either team, expect the winner to attempt to win by more than 21 points, instead of the usual 13.
“There is a new change to the rules this year with the tiebreakers,” Schartz said. “It’s always been 13 points, this year it’s 21. So things are a little bit different in that aspect.”
League title oddity
In a strange situation because of the way league games are tabulated, the game will count toward Manhattan’s league record, but not Topeka High’s. Only a team’s first six Centennial games count toward the league record, meaning the Trojans have already assured themselves at least a share of the title with a 6-0 record this year, all of which came against league foes. Manhattan is just 5-0 in league, because it opened the season with a non-league loss to Mill Valley.
So potentially, Manhattan could win convincingly on Friday and still share the league title with the team it just beat. Washburn Rural is also in the mix for a league title, with Junction City the only team in its way from a 6-0 league record.
Fortunately, while the title will go to whichever teams finish 6-0 in their first six league games, the teams will at least have the opportunity to determine a true champion on the field. All three teams still in the hunt are scheduled to play each other in district play.