It took a blocked extra point from a quarterback to get here, but here Manhattan is all the same.
Looking back, Manhattan High’s blocked kick is even wilder than it appeared at the time. Dayne Aschenbrenner is a regular contributor on special teams, but it typically comes offensively: He works as the team’s holder.
Because he’s needed in that position during special teams practice, he never works with the blocking unit.
“I don’t think he’s been on that team at all the whole season,” MHS head coach Joe Schartz said. “That was probably his first live rep. He was around when we were discussing that and he’s a senior captain, pays attention during practice and is aware of the situation. He knows what needs to take place and he just went out there and did it.”
Aschenbrenner’s efforts saved No. 6 seed Manhattan from a potential first-round upset at the hands of No. 11 seed Garden City. Instead, the Indians enter the second round of the playoffs coming off a 21-20 win over the Buffaloes and owners of a four-game winning streak.
Manhattan’s road didn’t get any easier, as the Indians (6-3) now travel to Wichita to face No. 3 seed Wichita East (6-1). The game will be played at 7 p.m. Friday at Wichita South’s Carpenter Stadium.
On paper, the Blue Aces appear to be one of the most complete teams Manhattan has faced this year. They certainly are the best defensive team statistically the Indians will have seen.
“Their defense is really good, and overall, they’re really good,” Schartz said. “They lost one game to Wichita-Northwest, who’s a powerhouse in the state. Their defense all year long has given up 50 points. The highest point total of any game is 17. Their defense is really athletic (and) very good. (They have) fast and physical linebackers and a fast secondary.”
Manhattan’s offense will face the group slightly shorthanded, as running back Lorenzo Wilhoite will be out for the second straight week as he deals with a hand injury, according to Schartz. That means the Indians likely will rely on the duo of Aschenbrenner and running back Vincent Smith for their offense.
Smith was fantastic in his last game, which saw him in his first extended action since Week 2.
He rushed for 127 yards and two touchdowns in the performance.
Aschenbrenner was solid, though it was not one of the best games of his season. He rushed for 91 yards and a touchdown while passing for 31 yards and an interception, his first since Manhattan’s Week 5 loss to Seaman.
For MHS, keeping the ball away from Wichita East will be critical, as the Blue Aces have showcased a high-powered offense in the past. Manhattan has won the turnover battle just twice this season.
“We’re going to have to do what we do,” Schartz said. “That’s execute well and play physical. Hopefully we can protect the football and control the clock and help keep their offense off the field. That’s going to be a difficult task versus a very quality defense.”
Manhattan’s defense will have its hands full as well. The Blue Aces are a departure from the power-run schemes the past two teams the Indians have seen. Instead, East relies on speed and stretching the field in similar fashion to what Manhattan saw against Junction City.
To halt the attack, MHS will need another big game from its defensive line.
“We’re just going to have to try to do what we can to put pressure on the quarterback, which will make him inaccurate and help our secondary,” Schartz said. “We’re going to have to do a good job of tackling in space. That will be difficult.”
Even then, Manhattan still will need a few things to break its way to pull off the upset.
Plays like Aschenbrenner’s blocked extra point will go a long way toward the Indians continuing their playoff push.
“I’ve been telling the kids it’s OK to focus on the big picture,” Schartz said. “We talked a little last week about that to start the playoffs. Chasing the dream of winning a state championship. It gets me excited, and I know the kids are excited. When you’re excited about chasing a dream, you’re going to do what you have to do to continue to advance.”