Football falls short in season-ending loss

Jacob Clanton, Print Editor-in-Chief

Senior Talon Claussen dropped back, looking to pass. All he needed was 12 yards to keep Manhattan’s chances alive. First receiver, covered. Second receiver, covered. Third receiver, covered.

Claussen’s only choice was to throw the checkdown to junior Kevontae McDonald. McDonald caught the ball near the line of scrimmage and cut toward the center of the field. He pushed forward, trying to break through the Derby defense, but it was to no avail. McDonald would only manage three yards on the play, turning the ball over on downs.

Derby (9-1) would run out the clock on the game and Manhattan’s (8-2) season, as the Panthers won 21-14 in the second round of the 6A playoffs.

“Overall, I felt like we played pretty well,” head coach Joe Schartz said, “but just came down to a few plays that needed to be made here and there. That’s what happens when you get to this time of the season, and it’s always close and it always comes down to just a few plays. [The] kids don’t have anything to hang their heads about, they put it on the line and I’m proud of the way that they performed.”

The Indians came out of the gate fired up. After a quick three-and-out, Derby drove the ball, but was stopped on a goal-line stand. On Manhattan’s ensuing possession, McDonald took the ball 49 yards to the house.

“[There] was obviously some extra motivation because it’s Derby and it’s second round of playoffs,” senior Brett Carson said. “You got to come out every game same, but I do think there was a little bit more energy coming out.”

Derby responded, marching down the field to tie the game on an 8-yard pass. The Panthers benefited from two consecutive plays of over 10 yards.

“[We struggled] making tackles,” senior Jalin Harper said, “and sometimes we weren’t aligned right, and we just didn’t hold them to enough.”

After short drives from both teams, the Indians took over on their own 41-yard line. Manhattan marched down the field, highlighted by a 32-yard catch by senior Reece Wewer. McDonald punched in his second touchdown of the game, giving MHS a 14-7 lead.

McDonald finished the game with 183 yards on 24 carries, bringing his season total to 1,258 yards rushing.

“Kevontae really has come along throughout the year,” Schartz said. “That’s another young man that’s continued to improve as the season has gone on, and he’s emerged here late in the season as somebody quite special.”

Claussen ran nine times for 43 yards and went 4-15 through the air for 57 yards, throwing one interception. Like McDonald, Claussen improved as the season went on.

“Talon’s a fine young man,” Schartz said, “and he’s still got a lot ahead of him here at Manhattan High. I know that he’s matured throughout the season, and he’s gained from this experience, and I continue to see him doing great things, not only for Manhattan High, but in the future.”

Derby came out of the gate running in the second half, marching down the field to tie up the game. The Panthers also gave Manhattan’s offense trouble, intercepting Claussen on the next drive.

“They changed their front a little bit,” Carson said, “gave us a different look. They just came out of the locker room firing.”

Derby would capitalize on MHS’ mistake, taking the lead on an 11-yard run with 4:00 remaining in the third quarter. Though they were trailing, the Indians knew they still had time to come back.

“We never thought that we would be losing like this,” Harper said. “We thought the whole time like, ‘Oh yeah, offense is going to get it, they’re going to get it, and we got to do our job to stop them,’ and that’s what we did.”

Manhattan began marching the ball down the field, getting near midfield before encountering a third-and-long. Claussen took the ball on a quarterback draw, trucking the Derby defender, and running 13 yards to give the Indians a fourth-and-three. Manhattan had the quarter break to draw up a play, trying to get the ball to junior Jaylynn Liggons. Claussen got the ball near Liggons, but the Derby defense made the connection fall short.

“The draw play with Talon was a long yardage play and Talon made a nice run,” Schartz said, “and at least made it worth going for on fourth down. We just came up with a route combination where we thought we could get Jaylynn open, and just happened to not make the connection.”

That was one of the small plays Schartz felt impacted the game.

“You can’t fault the kids, that’s sport,” Schartz said. “Sometimes you make plays, and sometimes you don’t, just happened that we didn’t make the plays that we needed to down the stretch.”

The Indians’ next opportunity came after a Panther punt. McDonald broke free, running down to the 10-yard line. After a one-yard loss the next play, Manhattan missed on three straight passes, turning the ball over on downs.

“We had some drives there again and we just got down there and didn’t convert,” Schartz said, “and we got into some long yardage plays and situations and weren’t able to convert, but we continued to move the ball, we just needed to put some points on the board.”

Though Manhattan was running out of chances, it knew that giving up was not an option.

“Every snap you get to fight with your brothers,” Carson said, “just giving them all you got, leaving everything on the field. It was our last game, last game of the season, and last game at Bishop, [so] you got to give everything you got, every play.”

Manhattan was given one last chance thanks to a defense that hardened in the fourth quarter.

“We were just flying to the ball,” Harper said, “everybody was getting to the ball and pursuing well, and we had some missed tackles, but the next guy up was right there to make the tackle and clean it up.”

With the ball 60 yards away from the promised land and only 2:09 left on the clock, Manhattan embarked on its last drive. After a short McDonald run, two straight incompletions and a 5-yard penalty forced the fourth-and-12. Claussen was unable to find a man downfield, and McDonald was unable to weave through the Panther defense, ending Manhattan’s chances and season.

Though the Indians were unsuccessful against the two-time defending state champions, they never gave up, something Schartz was proud of.

“It’s just a credit to the kids,” Schartz said. “They kept battling and they’re tough young men. You get in those tough situations, they’re going to break the huddle, they’re going to go up to the line of scrimmage, and they’re going to give it all they got, and that’s all a coach can ever ask.”