One might think Manhattan High football head coach Joe Schartz would be fairly pleased with his undefeated team, especially coming off consecutive shutouts.
And he is.
To a point.
Last week’s second-half massacre of Topeka High showed fans how dangerous the Indians can be when they’re rolling with a full head of steam, but for Schartz, there still was plenty to dissect and improve going into Friday’s home game versus Seaman High.
“We watched the film and as the old saying goes, ‘It’s never as good as it seems,’” Schartz said. “We didn’t execute well offensively upfront. It was closer than one might think versus Topeka High. We need to get better if we’re going to beat Seaman.”
Schartz was not happy with the way Manhattan (4-0), the No. 5 team in Class 6A in the latest Kpreps.com rankings, practiced the week before playing the Trojans.
He said he felt some of the team’s botched preparation was evident last week.
T-High just never made the Indians pay for it.
Once the game ended and Manhattan made its way off the field at Hummer Sports Park, Schartz wasted no time trying to get his team back in the correct mindset heading into the next week of practice.
“It started right away last week, in the locker room after Topeka High,” Schartz said. “We have three rules: Be coachable, be on time and communicate. We’ve struggled over the last couple weeks on being coachable. We’ve been a little defensive when we’re making corrections as coaches. So I challenged them right after the game that if we’re going to have any success against Seaman, we needed to be coachable. That takes toughness to take that kind of criticism, but we need to have a great week of preparation.”
That “great week of preparation” is paramount, because the Indians face one of their toughest tasks of the season in Seaman High (3-1).
The Vikings are an overtime loss to Junction City away from being undefeated, and are led by a stellar one-two punch at quarterback and wide receiver in seniors Camden Barta and Casen Stallbaumer.
Barta has been the talk of the state heading into the season after the big-bodied safety made the transition to quarterback. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound senior can sling it, and he has the speed to be a threat in the run game as well.
“He’s big and physical and throws a nice deep ball,” Schartz said. “He’s capable of running the ball, but they haven’t shown that lately. But he’s a dual-threat quarterback for sure. He’s also a free safety.”
One of the things that make Barta such a threat are three talented — and tall — wide receivers, led by Stallbauner who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 205 pounds. Stallbaumer had more than 800 receiving yards last season and is one of the top wide receivers in 6A.
“He’s the guy who stands out on film to me,” Schartz said.
“He’s just physical. They use in the pass game a lot as a receiver, but they also motion him across as a blocker on the point of attack and they use him in jet sweeps. He’s made a ton a big plays and a lot of it is just broken tackles. He’s definitely difficult to tackle.”
Aside from Stallbaumer, Seaman also boasts Brady Gormly, who is 6-foot-6, and P.J. Vargas, who’s 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds. The three can make things difficult on a secondary like Manhattan’s, which is fast and talented — but lacks the height of the Viking wideouts.
“We’re going to have to tackle well on the perimeter, and it’s a tall task for our defense,” Schartz said. “It seems like their biggest plays through the air are basically jump balls. They use their size to go get the ball.”
The Vikings’ height may pose an issue for Manhattan, but senior cornerback Zach Hirschey, who leads the team in interceptions (two) along with senior Joe Hall, said he believes that the Indians’ speed and physicality will be enough to stop Seaman from getting into a rhythm.
“They have size, but I think we have more speed,” Hirschey said. “We just really need to play fast. Fast equals physical.”
Defensively, a number of the Vikings’ playmakers on offense play defense, too, led once again by Barta at safety and Stallbaumer at outside linebacker.
“Their defense is the strength of the team,” Schartz said. “They have a lot of returning starters from last year. Junction had a really hard time throwing the ball, so at the end of the game, they just decided to go unbalanced and run sweeps and quarterback iso. They found something that worked.”
Schartz praised Stallbaumer and the rest of the Seaman linebacker core, including senior Braden Colley and junior Bryson Vawter.
Senior cornerback and speedster Kaden Ireland was another name that Schartz threw in as a threat, as well as someone who could pose a problem at running back.
Last year, Seaman was one of the three regular-season match-ups the Indians lost, falling 35-21 in Topeka in a game riddled with mistakes.
“We played poorly last year,” Schartz said. “We gave them a lot of short fields and we struggled to protect the ball. If you take away the turnovers, then you feel like it’s a pretty even game. So that’s something we definitely need to do a better job of.”
Despite their undefeated record and the lopsided wins of late, Schartz said the Indians are as locked in as ever.
“It’s early, but so far this week, the kids have been focused,” Schartz said. “But they beat us last year, so they definitely have our attention.”
Manhattan and Seaman will square-off at 7 p.m. Friday night at Bishop Stadium.