Last year’s football game at Emporia broke a streak of 28 consecutive regular-season wins for the Manhattan High football program.
While Friday night’s home game against the Spartans is the first chance at revenge for that loss, the Indians have plenty of motivation from within after last week’s 26-21 season-opening loss to Mill Valley.
Manhattan head coach Joe Schartz said his team has been more focused this week after some lackluster practices leading up to the Mill Valley game.
“I think our seniors have been making improvements and coming closer together as a team, and maturing,” he said. “Just going through that film and trying to correct those mistakes — it’s a humbling experience. But I’ve been pleased with the progress in the leadership category as well.”
While the focus is inward for the Indians this week, the challenge Emporia brings on Friday also has their attention. After finishing the year 9-2 last season, the Spartans didn’t seem to miss a step in drubbing Shawnee Heights 44-0 on Friday, though the T-Birds helped pad the Emporia lead in the second half with a myriad of mistakes on special teams.
In the offseason, Emporia also got a new coach in P.J. Marstall, who replaced Dustin Delaney when he left to become head coach at Shawnee Mission East. Marstall, who hasn’t made dramatic changes to the offensive or defensive schemes the team used a year ago, returns the team’s biggest weapon, his son Braxton.
“Braxton is a four-year starter at quarterback — he started as a freshman,” Schartz said. “He’s all grown up now, he’s 185 pounds as a senior and he throws the ball really well.”
Teaming with fullback Cody Campbell, the senior quarterback is also dangerous on the ground in the option running game.
“He throws the ball really well, and he runs the option better than anybody in our league,” Schartz said. “When you talk about them offensively, you have to talk about him first, and Cody Campbell their fullback second.
“They’re going to line up and run the football and run the football, then try to catch us asleep with the play-action pass.”
Emporia lost its two most dangerous receivers from a year ago in J.L. Savage and Oklahoma State signee Jerel Morrow. But Schartz said they still have deep threats if the safeties over commit.
“The one thing that’s glaring that they’re missing is the two talented receivers that they had last year,” he said. “But they have some underclassmen who are good receivers, it’s just that not everybody knows about them.”
Fueling the offense’s running game is an offensive line that will once again outsize the Indians on defense.
“They’ve got an aggressive offensive line — I’m always impressed every year with the way that Emporia’s offensive line gets off the ball,” Schartz said. “It’s almost like a sprint. They’re really aggressive and they come at you.”
Defensively, Emporia features Parker Bass, a 215-pound defensive tackle. They run the same 4-2-5 base defense that Manhattan runs.
“I think they have six returning starters on defense,” Schartz said. “The one good thing is we match up with them better. Their defensive line is 215, 215, 200 and 205. So they’re very similar to us in size and it’s a different matchup than it was last week.”
For Manhattan, fixing the mistakes the team made last Friday is important if the Indians hope to slow down the Spartans. While Schartz wanted to see more consistency out of the run game and the passing game, he knows he’ll need to get his receivers involved against Emporia.
“We struggled in the passing game last week, but we’re continually working on it and we’re getting better everyday in practice,” Schartz said. “And we need to get better. We have some receivers who can get open and catch the ball, we need to be able to get them the ball through the air.”
Schartz said he thinks his receivers offer up an intriguing matchup with the Spartans’ cornerbacks, though he also wants to see the running game get on track from the opening snap.
“We have to run the football better,” he said. “And I think our offensive line took some steps in the second half last week. We have to continue to improve. We’re going to have to do much better to have the chance to beat Emporia.”
Friday’s game will be the first chance Manhattan has to play on the new turf at Bishop Stadium. The evening will feature a ceremony at halftime to dedicate the new field. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
“I think this is a great opportunity for our kids,” Schartz said. “And I think the kids are excited about this opportunity. This team — they’re competitors, they’re fighters and they don’t like what happened last week. They’ve been working really hard this week to get the mistakes corrected.”