Manhattan High just kept giving Dodge City chances.
The Indians turned the ball over five times, including three in the first half, and allowed Dodge City to recover an onside kick, handing the Red Demons countless chances to push the score in their favor.
It all worked in the Red Demons’ favor too, as they turned a three-touchdown first-half lead into a 38-6 win, ending the Indians’ season in the first round of the Class 6A playoffs at Bishop Stadium.
The first turnover in the first quarter occurred when a punt bounced off a Manhattan player and Dodge City pounced on it. But penalties held the Red Demons from scoring that time.
But MHS quarterback Jacob Holloway fumbled the ball on the next possession, and again, the Red Demons failed to capitalize because of penalties.
Dodge City finally broke through on the Indians’ next possession, though, when Holloway botched a handoff on an option, and the Demons’ Parker Davis recovered it for DCHS.
Davis ran for 69 yards in two plays to put Dodge City ahead 7-0 with 7:28 left in the first half. Then the Red Demons caught MHS napping.
Dodge City attempted an onside kick and recovered, leading to another two-play touchdown drive capped by a 26-yard pass from Kelan Newton to Jordan Doan, pushing the lead to 14-0.
MHS coach Joe Schartz said it was a turning point in the game.
“It just wasn’t our night,” Schartz said. “We had multiple turnovers and that onside kick was just a really great kick by the kicker, it was perfectly placed. It gained them momentum, and it was something that we couldn’t bounce back from. We never got off to, really, any start at all.”
The Red Demons scored again with 18 seconds left in the half, when Davis scored from 16 yards out on third-and-11. The senior — headed to play football at Air Force next year — finished with 207 yards on 21 carries.
If the first half gave Dodge City momentum, the start of the second half gave the Demons more. The Indians were punched in the gut when Darian Taylor lost the football on the opening kickoff and the Red Demons recovered at the Indians’ 27-yard line.
Schartz said it was a blow the Indians never recovered from.
“We still thought in the second half that we had a chance to make it a close game and at least have a chance to win at the end,” he said. “(We) made some adjustments defensively to slow down their run game a little bit and played better in the second half, but when we fumbled the second-half kickoff, I think that really took the wind out of sails.”
The Indians would hold Dodge City to three points in the third quarter, with Red Demon kicker Dillon Burkhard nailing a 45-yard field goal through the middle of the uprights.
On the ensuing drive, MHS went for it on fourth down inside its own territory and failed to convert, giving the Red Demons the ball at the Manhattan 38. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Newton found speedy running back Blaik Middleton for a 21-yard TD pass.
Two drives later, the Demons pushed back to their own 13, Newton found Taylor Murphy for an 87-yard screen pass for a touchdown.
On their final drive of the game, the Indians would finally reach the end zone, with Holloway finding Devin Cossman on a 13-yard pass.
Holloway was 7-of-17 passing for 72 yards and rushed 20 times for 100 yards. Taylor finished with 81 yards on 12 carries.
Schartz said he was happy the guys had a chance to score before the end of the game.
“We got to a point in the game where you just had to keep playing, and I kept telling the kids, ‘hey, we’re going to finish,’ they did,” he said. “They never hung their heads and they never quit trying, so I’m proud of that.”
The Indians finished the season 6-4, winning their district but losing the last two games of the season.
After losing two games early in the season, Schartz said the team fought back from the assumption that they wouldn’t be able to turn in a solid campaign.
“We knew it would take some time for this team to come together and it did early on,” he said. “We only had three returning starters from last year’s team and very little varsity experience.
“I’m really proud of the way the seniors gained that experience, and they gave great leadership and they really had a great season.”