Joe Schartz didn’t get a good look at what may have been the biggest play of the game in Manhattan’s 31-28 win over Junction City Friday night at Bishop Stadium. The event already was a storied rivalry game that has its own trophy. But the matchup included two titans of Kansas high school football’s 6A class in the No. 5 Blue Jays and No. 9 Indians.
Stakes were high.
In a game that included a fumble on the 1-yard line, a wide receiver throwing a 79-yard touchdown and a game-winning field goal, it was a defensive stop that Schartz could barely see.
There was 4:40 left in the fourth quarter and Junction City had the ball deep into Manhattan (5-1, 4-1 Centennial League) territory on fourth down with and a yard to go.
“We couldn’t quite tell from over in the box, but Junction City ran a quarterback sneak, and we got good push with our defensive line,” Schartz said. “They were dominant all night long and stuffed the quarterback there. But we really weren’t quite sure.”
The play ended with the players in a big pile at the line of scrimmage. The upcoming call loomed large. The score was tied 28-all, and Junction City settled for nothing but touchdowns all game when it scored.
The ball was close to the spot, so the officiating crew brought out the measurements.
Schartz still couldn’t see.
“I looked down toward the end zone, and there was a whole lot of Manhattan people, so I asked them what they saw because they were looking straight down the line,” Schartz said. “They told us it was short, so I got pretty dang excited at that point.”
Manhattan got a big drive from its offense following the big stop, capped off by a 38-yard field goal by Grant Snowden as the clock hit zero.
Junction City (5-1, 4-1) had offensive weapons in the passing game. Quarterback Andrew Khoury was 13-of-18 with 177 yards and two touchdown passes in the game. Russell Wilkey is a star receiver and runner. He caught a touchdown, ran for a touchdown and tossed a 79-yard touchdown.
Still the Indians defense limited the Blue Jays, forcing an interception, two fumbles and coming up with big stops.
“Coach O’Neill did a fantastic job with his game play, protecting the flanks,” Schartz said, referring to the Indians’ defensive coordinator, Adam O’Neill. “Junction City found a little bit with their counter going back away to get some yards in the running game. But what a fantastic job by the defense creating turnovers and coming up with the big stop at the end of the game.”
Manhattan had three takeaways in the first half, including a Ty’Zhaun Jackson interception and two forced fumbles.
One of the fumbles was an enormous play for Manhattan and a missed opportunity for Junction City.
Manhattan burst out to a 14-0 lead after a couple drives with short fields following turnovers, but Junction City stormed back to tie. It had the ball on the Manhattan 1-yard line with a chance to go up 21-14 at the half, but the snap was mishandled and the Indians recovered.
“To go into halftime at 14-14 was a huge lift for us,” Schartz said. “At that point, I told the kids that it’s down to two quarters. It’s zeroes, so go play with passion for two quarters, because you are going to remember what happens in this second half for a lifetime.”
Schartz told The Mercury on Tuesday that stopping the Junction City offense was going to be a problem.
Manhattan struggled to stop “the big play” when it played against a Topeka High team of a similar caliber on Sept. 13. The Trojans scored on big offensive bursts and won that game, and the Indians didn’t want that same result in this game considering the rivalry bragging rights and a possible Centennial League title could be on the line.
Manhattan’s defense only has continued to make strides since the loss to Topeka High, especially in the secondary, and it was able to match every Junction City play.
“Talk about improvement from the start of the year defending the pass,” Schartz said. “I’m so proud of all the kids. All of them have continued to get better and make improvements. When you work that hard to get better, these types of things happen.”
Apart from a three-drive scoring lull in the middle of the game, the Manhattan offense took care of business when the defense gave it the opportunity. Quarterback Dayne Aschenbrenner, who was voted the player of the game, had 117 rushing yards and 52 passing yards. He had a crucial 29-yard pass to senior receiver Tyler Higgins on the game-winning drive. Senior running back BJ Young added three rushing touchdowns on his 106 yards on the ground.
Manhattan hosts Topeka West on Oct. 18 at Bishop Stadium.
“You can’t ask for anything more,” Schartz said about the rivalry game. “I’ve been in many of these over the years. I think this is my 11th one, and I’m thinking about five or six of them have come down to basically the last play. That’s what you expect, and we tried to get the kids prepared for it. ‘They are going to make plays and we are going to try to make plays. We are going to answer.’ And that’s how the game went.”
Junction City 28
Junction City 0 14 14 0 — 28
Manhattan 7 7 7 10 — 31
MHS — Young 2 rush (kick good), 1:08
MHS — Young 8 rush (kick good), 11:15
JC — Wilkey 28 pass from Khoury (2pt NO GOOD), 9:27
JC — Wilkey 7 rush (2 pt good), 5:02
JC — Humphreys 70 pass from Wilkey (kick no good), 4:44
MHS — Aschenbrenner 41 rush (kick good), 3:27
KC — Bussey 46 pass from Khoury, (2pt good), 1:27
MHS — Aschenbrenner 1 rush (kick good), 9:41
MHS — Snowden 37 field goal, 0:02
RUSHING — Manhattan: Aschenbrenner 17-117, Young 23-106, Wilhoit 4-26, Reid 1-4 // Junction City: Giddens 10-68, Wilkey 15-48, Humphreys 1-9, Khoury 1-6
PASSING — Manhattan: Aschenbrenner 5-7-0-52, Junction City: Khoury 13-18-2-177, Wilkey 1-1-0-79
RECEIVING — Manhattan: Higgins 1-29, Young 2-2, Hoover 1-9, Parker 1-12 // Junction City: Humphreys 4-111, Bussey 2-68, Alcorn 4-45, Wilkey 4-32