Manhattan junior quarterback Keenan Schartz (12) rushes against Topeka West on Oct. 15. The Indians will host Wichita North on Friday at Bishop Stadium in the opening round of the Class 6A playoffs.

Manhattan High football will kick off a hopeful 2021 run through the postseason Friday night when it hosts Wichita North in the opening round of the Class 6A playoffs.

“There’s a sense of excitement heading into the playoffs,” MHS head coach Joe Schartz said. “Any Friday night could be your last. You can’t waste a day. You have to make sure you’re working hard and you’re getting prepared. You have to understand that you’re going to have to play very good football.”

An air of increased concentration and intensity already has set over the Indians as they have their eyes on a deep playoff run.

“I can already tell that we’re more focused,” senior tight end and defensive end Trey Holloway said. “Mondays can be a little woozy, but we were definitely more locked in than we usually are. I think the focus and intensity will continue to pick up (as the week goes on).”

Despite the extra focus, Manhattan, which enters as the No. 2 seed among teams in the western portion of 6A, insists that its preparation has remained unchanged. It’ll be treating Wichita North just like it treated Emporia last week and Topeka West the week before.

“I’m pretty superstitious when it comes to sports, so I’m going to come into every game with the same mindset,” junior quarterback Keenan Schartz said. “I’m going to keep my weekly routine the same and hopefully go out there perform well every night.”

North’s record lists it as having one win, but that stems from a technicality.

North lost to Wichita Southeast, 28-6, to open the season. But because Southeast used an ineligible player, the result flipped, giving North the 1-0 victory via forfeit.

Before the forfeit, North had lost 16-straight stretching back to the beginning of the 2018. It has also lost seven-straight following the forfeit.

The lone bright spot for Wichita North so far this season has been junior wide receiver and free safety Jacob Wassall who leads his team in both all-purpose yards and tackles.

Wassall has 436 yards on 36 catches for five touchdowns so far this season.

He also had 44 tackles and four interceptions heading into the playoffs.

“He’s a good player,” Schartz said. “They like to throw the ball and go vertical and if they complete some of those, it might get interesting. But they’ve struggled with consistency.”

North is a young team. It has 55 players listed on their roster, four of which are seniors and 24 are freshmen.

Schartz noted that Wichita North has struggled stopping the run, something the Indians have been one of the best in the state at, racking up over 2,000 yards so far this season at a clip of 7.9 yards per rush and 255.3 per game.

Defensively, Schartz said that North will attempt to sell-out to stop the run and put pressure on the newly burgeoning Manhattan High passing attack.

“It’ll be pretty similar to what we had to go against versus Emporia last week,” Schartz said. “They go with a lot of Cover-1 and Cover-0 and bring a lot of pressure. So it’s going to have to be quick passes versus their man coverage and then there’s certain run plays we’re going to have to be able to check out of when we see that pressure coming.”

Keenan Schartz hit a career-high passing mark last week, throwing for over 180 yards versus the Spartans in the blowout win.

“I think he is getting more comfortable,” Joe Schartz said. “His familiarity with his personnel around him has improved and we’ve shored some things up around him protection-wise. And then for me as a coach, I’ve learned what we can do and what we can’t do in the passing game. It’s definitely going to be one of the things we’re going to be working on over the next couple of weeks because we’re going to have to mix it up to continue to advance.”

The Indians’ offense has thrived so far this season by capitalizing on big plays that gain 20 yards or more. So far this season, Manhattan has had 44 big plays which is nearly 20 more than the Indian defense has allowed. Schartz said that those big plays are key to establishing dominance early versus inferior teams.

“The key is to not let them have hope,” Schartz said. “The longer they stay in the game, the more hope they have. Anything can happen on Friday nights so we want to make sure we take care of things in all three phases of the game. If we execute on big plays, that goes a long way to taking away their hope.”

Manhattan High and Wichita North will kick things off Friday at 7 p.m. at Bishop Stadium. The winner will face the winner of Gardner-Edgerton (3-5) at Dodge City (6-2).