A two-point conversion decided Manhattan High’s fate against Topeka High in 2018. It was to be celebration or crushing defeat.
Topeka’s star running back, Ky Thomas, didn’t make it to the end zone, so Manhattan relished in the former, winning in overtime 21-20.
The Manhattan and Topeka High game has become one of the must-see matchups that Kansas high school football has to offer. It’s stifling defense, high-powered offense and emotion under the Friday night lights.
But it hasn’t always been that way.
“(Topeka head coach Walt Alexander) has done a nice job with building that program, and Topeka High wasn’t always a power house,” Manhattan head coach Joe Schartz said. “I came here in 2004 as an assistant. They went through several coaches and struggled, but Coach Alexander has really built that program from the ground up, and now every year they are a force to be reckoned with. So he has done a really nice job. We’ve had some battles over the years, and it’s an exciting match-up.”
Both teams boast talent across the board. That seems like an obvious statement considering both are ranked in the top 10 of catchitKansas’ Class 6A rankings — Manhattan is No. 8 and Topeka is No. 2 — but it’s still a battle of tradition against new.
Indians quarterback Dayne Aschenbrenner ran for nearly 200 yards with three touchdowns last Friday against Olathe Northwest. Topeka’s Thomas got the No. 4 play on SportsCenter last week for hurdling a defender.
Friday’s game will feature star power.
“Our program, we like to pride ourselves on our teamwork, our execution and our discipline and our conditioning,” Schartz said. “That’s what we hang our hat on every year, and that’s what we are hanging our hat on this year.”
The drama from last season’s epic game could still be fresh for Topeka, too. While Manhattan got the better side of the call, on the field Topeka and thought it was a successful two-point conversion. The Trojans celebrated in the end zone.
In the meantime, an official signaled Thomas didn’t make across the goal line. Manhattan was celebrating, too, on its own sideline.
There are significant stakes in this game Friday. While it’s only the second week of the season, the winner likely will be in the driver’s seat to win the league title, and in the process, earn better seeding come playoff time.
So naturally, there’s some pressure that high school players will have to face.
Schartz has prepared them for that.
“The focus has to be there, the preparation has to be there and the weekly things,” Schartz said. “You just have to do everything you possibly can leading up to get yourself mentally prepared for that type of environment. It’s going to be intense, very physical. You just have to get prepared for every possible situation. I just tell the kids to get a little bit of a mental visualization. ‘See yourself in that situation and how you are going to react.’”