Hours before he trotted onto the field at Bishop Stadium Friday night to attempt a game-winning field goal against Junction City, Manhattan sophomore kicker Grant Snowden spent the day practicing his steps. His routine. He wouldn’t do this on a normal Friday, but heck — this was the Junction City game.
He didn’t just practice in down time at the high school.
If it comes down to me, I’ve got to make sure I make this, he told himself while he was walking to classes.
Turns out, it did come down to him. With the score tied at 28, Manhattan drove down the field, hoping to score a touchdown and win. But the Indians didn’t get that far. They made it to Junction City’s 21, to be exact, which meant Snowden would face a 38-yard field goal from the center hash.
Only three seconds remained, so Snowden either was going to nail a game-winning field goal, or the contest was going to overtime. So much rested on this moment, not only because the Indians had a chance to beat their bitter rival, but especially because they hadn’t done so in two years.
Naturally, Manhattan coach Joe Schartz told Snowden a joke in the huddle.
“It’s a good one. It’s a dad joke,” Schartz said. “I can’t let my secret out of the bag, because I’m going to need it again in the future.”
Then, Snowden jogged onto the field and split the uprights. Manhattan won, 31-28. Snowden didn’t watch the ball sail through the uprights because he knew it was good. He turned around and sprinted, flailing his arms as his teammates swarmed him at midfield, all the earlier jitters reduced to ash.
“Holy cow. I just made that,” he thought.
“The seniors said they hadn’t had this privilege in (two) years they’ve been here,” Snowden said. “It felt awesome to bring it to them. There were tears all in their eyes. It felt awesome.”
That Snowden’s only background in kicking is in soccer makes the kick all the more impressive. After a Kansas State football game last year, a friend challenged Snowden to kick a field goal through the uprights. He did just that.
“At that point,” Snowden said, “I knew I wanted to do this.”
Even so, Snowden didn’t immediately try out for football. He didn’t join the team until halfway through last season, when the group asked him to kick. He obliged.
On Friday night, the decision continued to pay dividends. He registered seven total points — four PATs and one field goal — and solidified his reliable reputation. That’s what makes kickers, after all, and Snowden is dependable as ever.
The drive that led to Snowden’s kick is worth revisiting, too, especially the play that set up that drive.
Late in the fourth quarter, Junction City faced a 4th-and-goal deep in Manhattan territory. The score was tied, so the Blue Jays figured they could convert and secure a lead.
That gamble didn’t pay off.
Manhattan secured a stop, holding Junction City quarterback Andrew Khoury short of the first-down marker; officials had to measure the spot. Indian ball.
Then, the hosts did what they love to: run the ball. Quarterback Dayne Aschenbrenner, who totaled 17 carries for 117 yards, reeled off a 12-yard run. B.J. Young, who added 23 carries for 106 yards, also got in on the action.
The most important play of the drive, though, was a pass. In his team’s own territory, Aschenbrenner dropped back and unleashed a bomb downfield to senior Tyler Higgins, who fought off multiple Blue Jays and made the catch.
Twenty-nine yards and a Junction City pass interference penalty. Decline it, Schartz decided, and Manhattan kept the ball moving.
“That really gave everybody confidence, got everybody excited,” Schartz said. “You kind of knew at that time that we were going to go down and get some points.”
Eventually, the Indians got that opportunity. Just not for seven. The drive stalled with a short Aschenbrenner burst to the Blue Jays’ 21.
That’s when Manhattan huddled up, and Schartz told Snowden the joke. Sophomore offensive lineman Cade McIlvane walked over to Snowden and gave him a few words of, well, encouragement: “Just make sure that ball goes through those uprights.”
Snowden did. His reward, among others: The game ball. He said he’s going to find a way to display it, but until then, he planned on sleeping next to it Friday night.
“I never thought,” Snowden said, “it would come down to the Silver Trophy.”