In football, sometimes even coaches are surprised.
The scouting report on Shawnee Heights suggested a matchup with Manhattan featuring stout defenses, power rushing attacks and a low-scoring dogfight won in the trenches.
The actual game? Not even close.
Instead Manhattan (4-2, 3-0 Centennial League) won in a shootout, 45-35, overcoming three turnovers that could have allowed the Indians to put the game away much earlier.
“That was a different ballgame than what I expected,” MHS head coach Joe Schartz said. “For us, I knew that we were going to have to throw the football. They sold out to stop the run, and we had a lot of things open in the passing game and we took advantage of it.”
Quarterback Jacob Holloway returned from injury to throw for a season-high 291 yards and three touchdowns against the T-Birds, hooking up with Bret Fehr seven times for 112 yards and a score. Fehr, who missed two games with a shoulder injury, proved to be Holloway’s top target all night while also making a difference in the return game.
“Thank goodness Bret was able to come back, because we were a little bit short-handed in our receiving corps with Devin (Cossman) coming down with mono,” Schartz said. “Thank goodness he was healthy and able to return.”
Holloway got the ball in the air early and often, completing 18 of 26 passes and burning the Shawnee Heights’ secondary over and over. Normally a bigger threat to run, Holloway showed that he could make the throws needed to balance the Indians’ offense.
“He’s been doing a really good job throwing the football,” Schartz said. “He’s been steadily getting better as the year goes along. Obviously, that adds to our offense.”
While the game went back and forth all night, Manhattan led the entire second half.
The Indians took a 31-14 lead after Joseph Trujillo’s 27-yard field goal in the third quarter. They had the chance to add to that lead when Holloway intercepted Shawnee Heights’ quarterback Kyle Geiger, giving his team the ball in T-Bird territory.
After a 37-yard pass from Holloway to Winston Dimel put the Indians at the 5-yard line, running back Darian Taylor fumbled reaching for extra yardage after getting stopped 2 yards short of the goal line. Shawnee Heights scooped the ball up and took it the other way 20 yards before T-Bird running back Michael Moten III ran 38 yards along the sideline to put the Indians on their heels.
Schartz was pleased with the win, but was unhappy with some of the decision making of his players in a game that could have been over much sooner.
“As a whole, of our team, not just the defense, the team has to learn game situations,” he said. “That’s what I was disappointed in, is keeping up with the game and what’s going on. I feel like we lost our focus and let them score some points at the end.”
After turning the ball over on downs trying to score, it seemed as if Manhattan would regain control of the game late in the third quarter, but Holloway was hit hard on a run up the middle and stripped, with Benjamin Taliaferro scooping and scoring from 30 yards out to make it 31-21.
Holloway was slow to get up after the play, but managed to finish out the game and is expected to play next week.
“We’ve got some kids that are hurt,” Schartz said. “But none that are injured.”
After the T-Bird score, Manhattan answered right back, scoring on a four-play, 51-yard drive capped by Fehr’s lone touchdown of the night, a 25-yard catch.
From there, the two teams traded touchdowns, with Shawnee Heights scoring quickly and attempting two onside kicks, both of which Manhattan recovered.
Leading the way on the ground for Manhattan was Taylor, who finished with 79 yards. Shawnee Heights had only 73 yards on the ground all night, but Geiger racked up 230 yards through the air with a pair of touchdowns.
Now heading into district play, which starts next week against undefeated Topeka High, Schartz was pleased with the progress his team is making.
“Obviously we’ve got to get better,” he said. “But we stepped up a notch in competition and they’re a good team. We beat them by more than anybody else of their losses. They’re a good football team and we found a way to win.”