Manhattan High football isn’t in the best of shape heading into Friday night’s game against Topeka High, whether that’s referring to its record or its injured list.
Following the Indians’ blowout loss to Hayden last week, MHS owns a 1-2 record and is heading to face an enigma of an opponent Friday. It will do so with limited options at its disposal.
“We haven’t gotten any healthier,” MHS head coach Joe Schartz said. “In fact, we’re maybe a little worse off than last week with injuries and illness.”
Running back Lorenzo Wilhoite was held out of last week’s game with an undisclosed injury. Fellow back Vincent Smith departed the game with an apparent leg injury in the second quarter and did not return. It is unlikely either will be ready for this week’s game.
The crisis in the backfield leaves Manhattan with limited options. Last week, the Indians mainly used halfback Mason Reid and backup tailback Israel Newby to fill the holes. Both ran for 49 and 32 yards, respectively, but the production was a far cry from what Manhattan is accustomed to receiving from the position.
Neither possesses the combination of speed and size of Smith (5-foot-8, 180 pounds). Instead, each running backs possesses one element; Reid’s 6-foot-1, 195-pound frame gives him the size to function as a power running back, while Newby — who stands 5-foot-5 and weighs 135 pounds — showcased quickness in his limited action against Hayden, averaging 6.4 yards per rush.
Manhattan will have to find a way to balance the two backs to maintain its stout rushing attack, which has averaged 263 yards per game.
The one piece of the running game still in place is quarterback Dayne Aschenbrenner. The senior has been extremely effective on the ground this season, running for an average of 112 yards per game.
The passing game has been less effective for Manhattan this season, but showed promising steps forward in the team’s last game. Aschenbrenner completed eight of his 18 passes for 95 yards and a touchdown. He didn’t throw any interceptions.
Schartz hopes the passing game can continue to improve. Much of that will come down to keeping Aschenbrenner upright and giving him opportunities to throw.
“Offensively, there’s still problems up front with miscommunication and lack of execution on the offensive line,” Schartz said.
Schartz also indicated new faces might have to rotate in on the offensive side of the ball, as other unspecified players also are dealing with health issues.
Defensively, Manhattan continues to allow big plays.
In Hayden’s second-quarter run, the Wildcats scored rushing touchdowns of 79 and 73 yards.
“We gave up the big play on defense,” Schartz said. “We have to tackle better. We’re working on that.”
Big plays were an issue the last time Manhattan faced Topeka High. In 2019, star running back Ky Thomas ripped the Indians to shreds, rushing for 238 yards and receiving for 111 more. He scored four touchdowns.
Thomas now is playing football at Minnesota, which is a welcome sight for Manhattan. This year, Schartz is unsure who, if anyone, will have the capability to replication Thomas’ big-play ability for the Trojans.
Topeka has yet to play a game this season and also is operating under a new coach. Schartz doesn’t have any tape to watch to prepare his team. He only has an idea of what the team has done in the past.
The one Topeka player who worried Schartz, Geivonnii Williams, no longer is enrolled at the school. Instead, he mysteriously appeared on the field for Hayden against Manhattan last week despite not having played in Hayden’s previous two games and not being listed on the team’s roster.
“He was an all-league wide receiver, kick returner and defensive back for T-High last year,” Schartz said. “Then all of a sudden, we showed up to Hayden. He didn’t play the first two weeks and then I see this No. 29 on the field. I pulled out my roster and looked and there was no 29 on the roster. He just magically showed up last week at Hayden.”
Without Williams, the Trojans are a bit of an enigma.
“I think they lost quite a bit of last year’s team,” Schartz said. “It’s difficult to tell right now who’s going to play for them.”
Manhattan will find out Friday night as the team tries to avoid its worst start in more than a decade.
“It’s real important,” Schartz said. “We’ll focus on what we can control. This week, our focus is on Topeka High. I think if we can play well, it will go a long ways to give us some confidence and help us continue to get better as the season goes along.”