Strong first half fuels Indians’ 41-21 win over T-Birds

By Grant Guggisberg

TECUMSEH — If you only watched the second half of Friday’s football game between Manhattan High and Shawnee Heights, you might wonder why the Indians are a one-loss team and the T-Birds have just one win.

The answer to that question came in the first half, when the T-Birds made a multitude of mistakes that resulted in short fields for Manhattan and a 31-6 halftime lead.

After halftime, the T-Birds found their rhythm in the passing game, scoring the game’s final two touchdowns while completing three passes for more than 50 yards against the Indians’ secondary.

But it was too little, too late, as the Indians won 41-24.

“I’m very proud of our team,” Manhattan head coach Joe Schartz said. “This was a dangerous football team. They have many weapons on offense and a good, stout defense. People have struggled to run the football and move the ball on them. I was proud of the entire football team tonight.”

Coming into Friday’s matchup with Shawnee Heights, Manhattan coaches were most concerned with the T-Birds’ ability to make big plays in the passing game.

Those big plays eventually came, but it didn’t matter.

Manhattan controlled the clock and put up just enough third-quarter points to make a comeback seem unrealistic for Shawnee Heights, which turned the ball over on downs in its own territory on its first possession after halftime. The T-Birds also didn’t push the envelope in the final quarter of the game as much as they could, despite the effectiveness against Manhattan’s secondary, which by the end was plenty tired.

Offensively, Manhattan had one of its more balanced attacks of the season, with Kellen Myers finishing 8 of 12 through the air for 172 yards and three touchdowns, while rushing for 81 yards. Receiver Bret Fehr caught five passes for 129 yards and made several solid plays on passes in the flat for big yardage.

“We knew we had to be opportunistic in our passing game,” Schartz said. “Kellen did a nice job. He started a little slow, but he did a nice job and got in a rhythm and we got some big plays in the passing game to Bret (Fehr). It was a good combination all night.

“Bret’s a competitor. When the ball is in his hands, he does good things with it.”

Placekicker Joseph Trujillo kicked two field goals in the game, a 32-yarder and a 23-yarder.

T-Bird quarterback Taymon Grabauskas finished the game with two touchdowns and 231 yards through the air, with both scores coming on passes to receiver Austen Hubert for more than 50 yards each. Grabauskas was 5 for 12 for 28 yards in the first half, and 6 for 8 for 203 yards in the second half.

“(Grabauskas) hit some receivers right down the middle and he was perfect on his passes,” Schartz said. “There were times that we had good coverage and it was a perfect pass and a great reception. We knew it was going to be that type of ballgame. We did enough early on to stay away from the big play to give us a big enough cushion to hold on and win the game.”

Manhattan took a 41-12 lead to start the fourth quarter before the T-Birds answered with a pair of touchdowns to Hubert. After missing its first extra-point attempt, Shawnee Heights went for two the rest of the game and failed on each of them.

Early on, it looked as if Shawnee Heights might pose a serious threat to start the game.

After a quick three-and-out by Manhattan, Shawnee Heights put together its best drive of the first half on its first try, driving 64 yards in eight plays to take a 6-0 lead.

But the T-Birds would not score again the rest of the half and would net just 13 more yards before the intermission as Manhattan scored 31 unanswered points to take a sizeable halftime lead.

The Indians built their lead on T-Bird mistakes.

After taking a 7-6 lead on a 29-yard touchdown pass from Myers to Mike Settembrino, a punt block gave Manhattan great field position on its third drive to set up a 32-yard field goal by Joseph Trujillo. On the ensuing kick off, Shawnee Heights couldn’t handle the high, squib kick into the wind, with Manhattan recovering for another short field.

Seven plays later, Myers ran for a 5-yard touchdown to give the Indians a 17-6 lead.

But the T-Birds weren’t done making mistakes, with Grabauskas fumbling the ball at midfield, to set the Indians up with good field position again.

The Indians ended up turning the ball over on downs, but got a stop on defense on the next series, which set up a 59-yard touchdown pass from Myers to Fehr to extend the Manhattan lead to 24-6.

After another quick punt by Shawnee Heights, Manhattan used its two-minute offense to score quickly, with Myers breaking away for a 30-yard run and connecting with Fehr for another 26 yards to set up a third touchdown pass for Myers, this time finding Ethan Fabrizius for a 2-yard score and a 31-6 lead.

Senior safety Darian Taylor out

At least part of the reason Manhattan’s secondary struggled was the absence of safety Darian Taylor, who spent the game on the sideline Friday night in a wheelchair after having surgery on his foot this week.

“Darian is a heck of a high school football player,” MHS coach Joe Schartz said. “My heart goes out to him. For this to happen to him in his senior year is devastating, but I think the team has rallied and stepped up and we’re going to continue to move forward.”

Prior to his injury, Taylor was Myers’ primary backup at quarterback. Junior running back Chris Martin, who played quarterback as an underclassmen, got some reps in the second half, though he never attempted a throw.

“Injuries happen every season and it’s unfortunate,” Schartz said. “But when things like this happen it’s important that the young kids continue to practice hard and get better and step up when the opportunity is there.”

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