Football mounts late comeback, not enough

Jacob Clanton, Print Editor-in-Chief

After losing most of its starters from last season, Manhattan High knew the start of this football season was going to be rough.

“We knew we were going to have some growing pains early on because we lacked experience,” head coach Joe Schartz said, “and we’re going to continue to get better.”

That inexperience manifested itself in a 21-18 loss to Shawnee Heights on Friday night. The win was Shawnee’s first over Manhattan since 1986.

The Indians’ biggest problem was their lack of Friday night game time.

“Beginning of that game, I guess you could say that’s how an inexperienced team would look,” senior quarterback Talon Claussen said, “but then later on in the game, it definitely feels like we took steps forward, so that’s good.”

Manhattan and Shawnee spent the first quarter trading punts, with neither team able to get any offense going.

“[The defense] aligned properly and we got off the field as quickly as possible by shutting them down and not having to work through long drives,” senior safety Jalin Harper said.

The Thunderbirds got on the board first, beginning the second quarter with a touchdown drive. A fumble on the ensuing kickoff gave Shawnee the ball back.

“It’s something that we have to clean up,” Schartz said. “Turnovers always play a huge role in winning a football game, and we had two on the night that were very costly.”

Shawnee Heights capitalized on the turnover, scoring a touchdown to push the score to 14-0.

Manhattan looked like it had an answer right before half, as it marched down the field to the 14-yard-line. However, a dropped pass to the endzone on fourth down killed the drive.

“I think we did really well throughout the whole game driving down the field,” Claussen said. “We just got to the redzone and kind of struggled. I guess we just got to get that extra push to get it in the endzone.”

Claussen led the team on the ground with 83 yards on 17 carries. He added 86 yards in the air, going 6-for-12 passing.

“I talk about kids growing up before your eyes there, Talon grew up,” Schartz said. “It’s just something that you can’t mimic in practice, but Talon’s one of those kids that we saw grow up before our eyes tonight, and he became a leader out there and he was making plays and very proud of his performance down the stretch.”

Senior Reece Wewer led the team in receiving yards, gathering 51 in three catches.

The Indians came out firing in the second half, putting together nine straight runs to get to the 15-yard-line. A sack on third down halted the drive, bringing out the kicking team. Senior Thomas Gevock nailed a 40-yard field goal, putting Manhattan on the board.

“[Kicking field goals] just gets the ball rolling,” Claussen said. “Once you get those first ones on the board, everything comes easier. You get that extra boost.”

MHS’ defense used a Shawnee holding penalty to force a quick punt on the next possession. Manhattan, lacking situational awareness and experience, accidently touched the rolling punt, allowing Shawnee to jump on the ball and retain possession.

“[Special teams turnovers are] definitely not fun,” Harper said, “but it’s part of the game. We had an opportunity to stop them after both turnovers, and we didn’t, so that was on us, but we will learn from it.”

Shawnee used that momentum to march down the field and score a touchdown, making the score 21-3. The Thunderbird touchdown came after the Manhattan defense had been on the field for over 10 minutes.

“I don’t believe [fatigue played a factor],” Harper said. “We may have been a little rattled, but we kept playing hard and didn’t let it get to us.”

The Indians responded immediately, going on a :42 drive, capped by Claussen’s 10-yard touchdown run.

“We got to the end and it was ‘We got to do it,’  instead of ‘It would be nice to do it,’” Claussen said. “Just that extra energy and game’s almost over, game’s on the line, you got to get it done.”

Following a short drive from Shawnee, and a fielded punt, Manhattan took over with about three minutes left in the game. Down 21-10, MHS proceeded to march down the field, mixing passing and running plays together.

“It was really nice to see what we could do,” Claussen said. “[I] wish that could have happened sooner in the game. We just needed it to happen earlier.”

The Indians capped the drive with a one-yard touchdown run from junior Kevontae McDonald. Wewer ran the ensuing two-point conversion in, closing the gap to 21-18 with :32 left in the game.

“We showed a lot of heart,” Schartz said. “[I was] happy with the fight in the team.”

On the kickoff, Gevock attempted an onside kick. It was unsuccessful, and Shawnee Heights kneeled to end the game.

Though Manhattan lost, there was an positive feeling in the locker room.

“Overall [the atmosphere] in the locker room was very positive,” Schartz said. “I told them, ‘When your parents ask what Coach said after the game, you tell them this: When we get it all together, we have the opportunity to be pretty good.’ It’s not about where you start, it’s where you finish.”

The Indians return to action next week, as they host Washburn Rural on Friday. In their last meeting, Washburn beat the Indians, ruining their perfect season. Though MHS knows it will be a tough game, it has hope that it will play a more complete game.

“You could see them growing up out there,” Schartz said. “You could see them understanding what type of passion you have to play with on Friday night. I think they’re getting it, we just have to grow up really quick, because it doesn’t get any easier.”