It took two overtimes for the Manhattan High football team to battle back to gain their first lead in the Class 6A state championship and it took a defensive stand on the next series to preserve their first state title since 1988, as they defeated the Trailblazers of Gardner-Edgerton 21-20.
Much like it has all season, MHS relied on its defense to preserve the win, on a goal-line stand on a 2-point conversion that failed on an afternoon where both sides of the ball were tested in the trenches.
“Our defense stepped up, got some stops, got some turnovers. Our offense struggled to move the ball on the ground but finally found a little bit with the speed option and capitalized through the air and made some plays,” Coach Joe Schartz said.
Schartz credited the Trailblazer defense for giving his team some difficulty, running a three safety look that gave up just 18 points per game this season. Teams struggled all year to run against the Trailblazers, including MHS, which tallied just 107 yards on the afternoon.
“We found other ways to get it done and move the ball. You gotta credit the kids. We threw everything at them but the kitchen sink and the kids executed just enough to get it done,” he said.
Offensively Manhattan totaled 264 yards to Gardner-Edgerton’s 212, but ran 58 plays compared to 69 for the Trailblazers. Gardner-Edgerton also converted on 4 of 6 fourth down opportunities and 3 of 4 red zone opportunities. Manhattan was 1 of 2 on fourth down conversions, but struggled on third down, converting just 2 of 11 attempts, and scored only on two of its five red zone opportunities. The Trailblazers also ran for 212 yards on the day, on 65 attempts, compared to Manhattan’s 36 attempts.
After both teams failed to score in the first quarter, it was Manhattan that found themselves trailing mid-way through the second quarter as the Blazers punched in a 1-yard touchdown run from Dawson Kindler, after a 9-play, 43-yard drive took 3:56 off the clock. The drive had been set up by a shanked punt from Braxton Frey who booted four punts in the game, averaging 31.2 yards per attempt.
The Indians answered back on the next drive, with 2:43 left in the second quarter, after an 8 play, 80 yard drive was capped by a 19-yard pass and catch from quarterback Kennan Schartz to wide receiver Jaxon Bowles. The Frey kick made it 7-7 as the two teams went into the locker room for halftime.
As the third quarter began, Gardner-Edgerton seemed to regain momentum, after a kickoff return set up the offense at their own 44 yard line. The offense then ran their flex-bone package to near perfection, driving 56 yards for a score as Kindler scored on a 5-yard scamper to the end zone.
Trailing 14-7 late in the contest, Manhattan found themselves needing a score to tie in the fourth quarter. But Schartz, attempting to find a man in the end zone for the game tying score, found defensive back Kaleb Green instead. But the Trailblazers would give the ball right back one play later on one of six fumbles on the afternoon, three of which were turned over. After getting a mulligan, the Indians ran three plays for 23 yards, capped off by a Jason Sanchez touchdown to tie the game with 4:51 left in the fourth quarter.
The Indians had chances on offense but had to rely on its defense to step up and step up it did, forcing a 3 and out and giving the offense a chance to win the game. However penalties stalled any chance of that happening, with Manhattan having to punt the ball away with less than a minute left in regulation and the game went into overtime, just the second time for MHS this season, and the first time since the thrilling week 1 victory against Derby.
MHS won the coin toss to start overtime, electing to go on defense. After Gardner-Edgerton failed to score on four plays, MHS took its turn on offense and attempted a field goal on 4th down, but Frey’s rushed kick sailed wide left and forced a second overtime. Sanchez would take in a 2 yard touchdown run on 4th down for the lead score and Frey’s kick made it 21-14.
On the next possession, it came down to a 4th and goal from the 2 yard line, with Kindler getting in. Head coach Jesse Owen elected to go for 2 rather than the game tying extra point kick, but Manhattan’s defense held the runner out of the end zone, getting pushed out of bounds at the half-yard line.
The win secured the third state title in school history, coming exactly 34 years to the date after winning their previous championship. It also secured the school’s first ever 13 win season and an undefeated record.
For Manhattan it’s the first state title since 1988, when Coach Lew Lane led the Indians to a 14-7 win over Lawrence.