This year’s annual game between Junction City and Manhattan High, as if often does, has much more on the line than just the Silver Trophy.
The Indians can claim a district title, a league championship and a home playoff game with a win over the Blue Jays Friday.
Of course, for most, the Silver Trophy, and the pride that comes with keeping it, is enough motivation. The Indians have never lost this game with head coach Joe Schartz at the helm.
“It’s an important game every year,” Schartz said. “It’s always a very tightly-contested ballgame. You can throw the records out. Both teams are going to do their best and it means a lot to both schools and both programs.”
With a win, Junction City would not only reclaim the Silver Trophy, but would also earn a share of the league title, as well as help its chances to make the playoffs.
Needless to say, the game will feel like a playoff game.
“That’s the stage of the season we’re at,” Schartz said. “It’s going to be a playoff-type atmosphere. And we always consider that once you start districts, you do start the playoffs. That’s the type of game these kids have dreamt about playing in since they were little. It’s great that they get to experience something like that.”
Winning won’t be easy, however.
Junction City plays much the same way as Manhattan, trying to control the line of scrimmage and counter with a solid defense.
The Blue Jays top running back is Jovan Toles. While not the biggest, at 5-foot-7, 160 pounds, Toles has game-changing speed and a big, physical offensive line to run behind.
“Defensively, we’re out-sized and overmatched, but hopefully our kids can play good team defense and tackle well,” Schartz said. “We need to stop them before they get started, because once they get started, they have the speed to go the distance.”
Blue Jay quarterback Cody Devin struggled a bit to start the season, but has come on lately.
“Their quarterback, early on in the season had some difficulty throwing the ball, but he’s gotten better every week and threw for four touchdowns against Washburn Rural,” Schartz said. “With the powerful running game, their play-action passes become very effective.”
With Junction City running a ball-control offense, Manhattan’s offense needs to do its best to stay on the field and help the defense.
“They’re very fast, and very athletic,” Schartz said of Junction’s defense. “They’re aggressive and good tacklers. It’s always difficult to move the ball on them.”
The last time these two teams met up with this much on the line, Junction City cruised to a blowout victory in 2008. Schartz is hoping things go differently this year.
“We’ve won three years in a row now,” he said. “The last time, I believe, that we were in this situation, with League champs and district champs and the Silver Trophy, we went over there and lost 30-6, back in 2008.”
While coaches and players have been trying to wrap their heads around the potential playoff ramifications of the final week of the season, Schartz’s message to his players is to just go out and win.
“We’ve spent all weekend looking at it and trying to figure everything out,” he said. “Now it’s time to just get focused and get prepared and do our best to win the football game.”