For the fifth time in the 14-year tenure of head coach Joe Schartz, Manhattan High football turned in an unbeaten regular season.
The No. 1-ranked Indians (8-0) completed the feat in resounding fashion Friday, routing No. 3 Wichita Northwest 56-28 on senior night.
Manhattan’s offense churned out a season-high 642 yards — 520 of which came on the ground — and averaged 11.67 yards per play. Indians ball carriers often found themselves with enormous holes through which to run and used their athleticism to make the most of them.
“The offensive line dominated,” Joe Schartz said. “...We’ve got a lot of good kids on that offensive unit, and I think this is definitely their most complete game.”
Quarterback Keenan Schartz ran wild, rolling up 212 yards rushing and four touchdowns on 17 carries.
But he wasn’t the only one. DeAndre Aukland had 10 carries for 183 yards and two scores, including an 80-yard touchdown on the first play of the game.
Jason Sanchez added 94 yards rushing and a TD on 16 attempts.
“I haven’t run through holes that big and outran linebackers like that since the beginning of time,” Keenan Schartz said. “The way we played up front made it a million times easier for me, my backs and my receivers. We opened up the pass game there when we needed it, but, I mean, why pass when we can just run it?”
Keenan Schartz finished 7-of-11 passing for 122 yards and a score.
Jaxon Bowles had three catches for 54 yards and a touchdown, Dwayne Newby had two for 50 and Braxton Frey had one for 19.
Although the game finished as a blowout, it didn’t begin that way. The Grizzlies (6-2) took a 14-7 lead after making Manhattan’s defense — which has been stout all year long — look incredibly vulnerable.
But then, something shifted, and the Indians forced Wichita Northwest to go three-and-out on five of its next six drives.
“It was just a matter of letting the game roll on,” said cornerback Dante Walters. “Just keep making tackles, keep working with what we’ve got and what we practiced.”
Manhattan held the Grizzlies — who came into the game averaging 60.3 points per game — to a season-low 28 points. Their previous low was 41.
The Indians certainly gave up yards — 427 yards to be exact, including 271 yards passing — but allowed the majority in the first quarter and later in the second half once the game was out of reach.
Wichita Northwest went scoreless from the 4:38 mark of the first period to the 5:56 mark of the third. During that span, Manhattan scored 35 unanswered points.
“Once we got those stops, we knew we could really just hold them and let our offense do what it does: run that clock and make touchdowns,” Walters said.
Keenan Schartz tied the game at 14-14 with 3:28 left in the first quarter when he went 39 yards for his first score of the night. He scored again from 7 yards out less than a minute into the second quarter, and yet again from 1 yard away with 44 seconds before halftime after cornerback Dre Delort recovered a muffed punt at the 17-yard line.
At the intermission, Indians led 28-14 and had outgained the Grizzlies 303-200.
Sanchez made it 34-14 with a 10-yard carry at the 8:30 mark of the third quarter, and Schartz threw a 38-yard touchdown pass to Jaxon Bowles to make it 42-14 just over a minute later.
“The kids ran well and we protected the football,” Joe Schartz said. “I don’t believe we had any turnovers. Our defense is very high-quality and very good. We complement each other very well with our ability to run the football and then to be able to pass when we need to move the chains. We’ve been very efficient with the passing game. It’s a great complement between our offense and defense.”
Wichita Northwest added two late touchdowns, but by then, it was too late. Plus, it never found a way to stop Manhattan’s offense anyway.
Keenan Schartz and Aukland each added additional touchdowns rushing to cap off the evening’s scoring for the Indians.
The victory was Manhattan’s fifth over a top-5 team this season, a mind-boggling number made possible thanks to additional non-conference scheduling slots opening because of a shrinking Centennial League.
Undefeated regular seasons are by no means a rarity under Joe Schartz, but this year’s might have been the most impressive.
“If you’d told me that we would be undefeated by the end of the season, I’d tell you you’re crazy, with the schedule we had,” Keenan Schartz. “With the schedule we had, this summer, it just motivated us so much more to work harder and come together as a unit.”
“Two years ago when we got it, I was shocked at the level of quality on the schedule, but it’s done nothing but make us better,” Joe Schartz added. “These kids stepped up to every challenge that’s been put in front of them. I’m very proud of them.”
As the No. 1 seed in the West, the Indians will have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs until the state championship game, if they make it that far.
The postseason will get underway next week when Manhattan hosts No. 16 seed Wichita North (0-8).
“(The approach) is absolutely the same,” Joe Schartz said. “We have to get focused and healed up over the weekend. We need to get to work on getting film and studying our opponents and putting in the game plan. No. 1, I gave the kids off tomorrow morning. We need to get some rest. We need to get healed up. We’ve got to get focused to go 1-0 next week.”