Manhattan High football has a top-10 game on tap. Topeka High, ranked No. 2 in Class 6A by CatchitKansas, plays Manhattan, ranked No. 8, at 7 p.m. at Hummer Sports in Topeka on Friday.
Although it’s only the second week of the high school season, this very well could be the game that decides who takes the Centennial League title at the end of the year.
Manhattan and Topeka played in a tight — and controversial — game last year, and the Indians prevailed 21-20 at home.
MHS is fresh off a convincing 41-7 win at Olathe Northwest to open the season, but this game could be different in just about every way imaginable. Manhattan head coach Joe Schartz and his team didn’t know much about the Ravens or even themselves, at the time.
Now, the Indians will face perhaps their toughest opponent all season in Week 2.
“It’s a quality opponent, very talented, but it is nice to know your opponent and be familiar with them and have the ability to game plan,” Schartz said. “The game plan is going to be there; it’s just whether or not we do a good enough job of executing.”
It’s difficult to draw up clear plan for Topeka. Their star running back, Ky Thomas, and quarterback, Da’Vonshai Harden, are pure athletes and two of the best players in the state.
“You could do everything just right, and they will make you look bad,” Schartz said. “Defensively, we have to rally to the football, get a lot of people there and tackle well. If we can limit their big plays we will have a chance.”
Defensively, the Indians feel confident in their work. That’s where the bulk of the seniors are, and they’ve had success against Thomas and Topeka in the past.
“Everybody knows that’s the big name,” senior defensive back Nate Hanson said. “But he’s never beaten us before, and we are just going to keep on doing what we do. I feel like we are more than just trying to stop all of them as a unit. It’s not just about stopping Ky, because he can be used as a distraction the same as a threat.”
There are still some things Schartz said his team has to work on. The Indians committed a plethora of penalties against the Ravens last Friday that could have been costly in a closer game. There’s not as much room for error this week for the Manhattan offense.
“We can’t afford to go backward and have those penalties in this game if we expect to have a chance, so it’s something that we are going to have to get cleaned up,” Schartz said. “If we don’t, it will hurt us.”
Limiting turnovers is something Schartz talks about often, too. Manhattan won the takeaway battle last week, but junior quarterback Dayne Aschenbrenner’s still had multiple passes tipped which led to interceptions. That’s something he and the receivers need to be aware of and continue to work on, Schartz said.
Friday night also will be a testament to the strength of the Manhattan offensive line, which lost senior leader Sam Shields to a dislocated shoulder. There still are some solid veterans in the trenches for the Indians, but the run game remains crucial and Topeka has good linebackers.
“Offensively, we have to control the ball,” Schartz said. “We have to move the chains and help keep the ball out of their offense’s hands.”