MANHATTAN — Quade McQueary and Brady VanDyken each scored three touchdowns in leading Manhattan to a 55-6 victory against rival Three Forks Friday on Senior-Parent Night.
The District 5B victory was a key one for Manhattan. The Tigers kept their playoff hopes alive and set up a showdown in the regular season finale against seventh-ranked Jefferson (7-1, 3-0) this Friday. With a win, the Tigers would move into a first place tie with Jefferson.
“I told the kids to enjoy the victory for 48 hours,” said Manhattan assistant coach Chris Grabowska. “Then they have to come ready to work on Monday. Next week is do or die. I asked the seniors to set the tone for us.”
The Tigers (4-3, 2-1) knew going into the contest that they needed to win to set up the showdown with Jefferson.
“I think everybody was just ready to play,” senior lineman Austin Oldenburger said. “We had two days off from school. Everybody was just ready to get out here and kick some butt.”
Manhattan, along with all other Montana schools, did not have classes on Thursday or Friday do to the annual Montana Educators Association Convention in Belgrade.
It was the second straight must-win game for Manhattan, which knocked off previously 10th-ranked White, 34-30, on Oct. 11 to stay in the playoff hunt.
“We just want to keep going,” said Oldenburger. “We want to get as far as we can into the playoffs. Winning this one was important. It was a good win.”
As if the contest wasn’t already emotionally charged enough for the Tigers, they also rode the high from Senior-Parent Night.
“Senior-Night, we wanted to win,” senior running back/defensive back Rodney Wiersema said. “We have that sense of urgency wanting to get into the playoffs.”
Manhattan scored quick, taking the opening kickoff to the 6-yard line before McQueary capped a three-play drive just 24 seconds into the game.
Three Forks began the game with an onside kick and Manhattan recovered at the Wolves’ 47. McQueary moved the ball to the Wolves’ 20, then Brock Bitterman took it to the six to set up the touchdown run by McQueary.
The Tigers came up with a big defensive stop on Three Forks’ first possession of game. Running back Billy Mourer gave the Wolves a first down at the 39 with a 9-yard run. Then, after Tyler Gootkin moved the ball to the 41, the Tigers’ defense pushed Three Forks back, taking Mourer down at the 36.
Gootkin and Mourer teamed up for a 9-yard gain to the 45, but the Wolves were facing a fourth down situation. On the next play Bitterman sacked Gootkin back on the 37, forcing the Wolves to turn the ball over on downs.
“We just got back to the basics on defense,” said Grabowska. “We worked on our tackling, on our assignments, and our coverage. I’m really proud of how we played on defense.
Manhattan needed just eight plays to reach the end zone again. VanDyken scored on a 1-yard run with 5:03 to play in the first quarter. The Tigers got a little help on the drive when Bitterman lost the ball at the 23 and Alec Nehring recovered at the 17. VanDyken moved the ball to the 12, then caught a pass from Bitterman at the 7-yard line to set up VanDyken’s TD two plays later.
The Wolves (2-6, 0-4) began their second possession on the 9-yard line. They moved the ball out to the 30 before punting. Manhattan needed just seven plays to move 80 yards to score again. Bitterman completed a 46-yard touchdown pass to Nehring to make it 19-0 Then the pair hooked up for the two-point conversion and a 21-0 lead early int the second quarter.
Bitterman completed 4-of-5 passes on the drive. He hit McQueary for a 2-yard gain. Bitterman was also on target to McQueary for a 22-yard gain to the 45, then the junior quarterback ran the ball to Three Forks’ 46 to set up the touchdown.
The teams traded punts before Manhattan sophomore Caleb Neth picked off a Mourer pass on the 38. Then McQueary broke loose for a touchdown run and booted the PAT for a 28-0 lead with 9:18 to play in the half.
Manhattan also capitalized on a Mourer fumble when Bitterman threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to McQueary for a 34-0 lead with 7:50 left in the second quarter.
VanDyken rambled 65-yards for a score a 1 minute, 37 seconds later for a 41-0 lead. Then Bitterman recovered another Mourer fumble on the 27. The Tigers needed just five plays to get into the end zone on Bitterman’s 17-yard pass to VanDyken to make it 47-0.
Manhattan tallied 312 total yards of offense in the first half alone.
“We didn’t get off to a great start,” said Three Forks coach Tyler Palmer. “We did some great things. We got a lot of our young kids in and looking forward to see them improve.”
Three Forks got the ball first in the second half, taking it to Manhattan’s 31 where Mourer fumbled. The Wolves began at their own 31. Mourer carried the ball five times for 22 yards before the turnover. Three Forks got some help after the Tigers where penalized 15 yards on a personal foul.
Mourer had taken the ball to the 46, then the penalty moved it to the 30. Bitterman recovered the fumble on the 37, but the Tigers turned it over on downs after moving inside Three Forks’ 40 yard line.
The Wolves moved the ball to the Tigers’ 45 before turning it over on downs. Shondel Connerton, a sophomore running back, broke free for a 35-yard touchdown and ran in the two-point conversion for a 55-0 lead with 5:14 to play in the game.
Kyle Frye, a freshman quarterback for Three Forks, scored from 15 yards out to put the Wolves on the scoreboard with 1:54 to play in the contest.
“I give Kyle a lot of credit,” said Palmer. “He got banged up earlier. He stayed with it and continued to get better.”
The second half was played with both team’s junior varsity. Manhattan rolled up 410 total yards of offense with 300 coming on the ground.
“That’s what we are capable of doing,” said Grabowska. “Our kids are responding. They showed up ready to play. They played to their potential and it showed.”
Added Oldenburger: “We all stepped up big. Everybody stepped up. We had a great game all the way around.”
McQueary had six carries for 91 yards, VanDyken had 86 yards on seven attempts, Connerton 50 yards on five carries, Bitterman 38 yards, Neth 16 yards and Wiersema 15 yards. McQueary also had three receptions for 42 yards, while Nehring had one catch for 46 yards.
“The line had a great game,” said Wiersema. “They gave us the good push and gave us the blocks. Made it easy for us.”
Mourer led the Wolves’ offense with 67 yards on 22 carries. Three Forks finished with 126 total yards with 99 coming on the ground.
“We’ve gotten better,” said Palmer. “People don’t always see the improvement on Friday night with the work you did Monday to Thursday. We know we are getting better.”
MANHATTAN 55, THREE FORKS 6
Three Forks 0 0 0 6 - 6
Manhattan 13 34 0 8 - 55
Man - Quade McQueary 6 run (McQueary kick), 11:36
Man - Brady VanDyken 1 run (kick failed) , 5:03
Man - Alec Nehring 46 pass from Brock Bitterman (Nehring pass from
Man - McQueary 38 run (McQueary kick), 9:18
Man - McQueary 18 pass from Bitterman (kick failed), 7:50
Man - VanDyken 65 run (McQueary kick), 6:13
Man - VanDyken 17 pass from Bitterman (kick failed), 1:39
Man - Shon del Connerton 35 run (Connerton run), 5:14
TF - Kyle Frye 15 run (pass failed), 1:54