MANHATTAN — There was plenty of emotion Friday night. It had nothing to do with the action on the field.
Prior to a District 5B battle between Manhattan and Townsend, players and coaches from both teams formed a circle joined hand-in-hand at midfield to honor a fallen comrade. It was just seven days earlier that Townsend’s Dakota Kimbrough was killed in a car accident just hours before the Bulldogs were to host Columbus on homecoming.
That game, as well as all other homecoming festivities, were canceled following the tragedy. Kimbrough died after the pick up truck in which was as a passenger rolled on a dirt road and the senior was thrown from the vehicle.
Kimgrough’s funeral was held on Wednesday, just two days prior to the team’s game against Manhattan.
While a tough set of circumstances leading into the conference opener for both teams, Townsend coach Travis Rauh noted his team needed little motivation to get up for the game. The fifth-ranked Bulldogs scored twice in the second quarter then held on for a 20-6 victory against Manhattan.
“Honestly, a lot of it was these kids,” said Rauh. “The way they handled the impossible situation with such class — they didn’t go out and do things that would hurt them. They came together. The way they practiced under some heavy hearts they had was phenomenal.”
Added running back/linebacker Bryce Green: “We were really thinking about Kimbrough all week. We were playing for him. We really came together as a team to play for him. It was pretty emotional. We were fired up for him.”
Despite the loss, interim Manhattan head coach Chris Grabowski praised the performance of the Bulldogs.
“I tip my hat to Townsend. They came ready to play. And they played a great game,” he said. “They were ready and had a great game plan. They stuck to it and shut us down.”
Green led the Townsend (3-0, 1-0) offense, rushing for 101 of the Bulldogs’ 132 yards on 23 carries and scoring a pair of touchdowns. The junior also caught a pass from sophomore Cameron Mattson in the second quarter for a 19-yard score with 2:37 to play in the half. Green ran in from 3-yards out in the third quarter, then booted the PAT to give Townsend a 20-6 lead.
“Bryce is phenomenal. He ran the ball hard and protects the ball. He puts the time in and works hard,” said Rauh.
While just the opener, it was a big conference game for both teams. Townsend now has the inside track at earning one of the league’s two postseason berths.
“It was a huge conference game. We played our hearts out,” said Green.
Manhattan is the three-time defending district champion, while Townsend had won the league title in 2008 and 2009. Both teams advanced to the State B playoffs a year ago and are seeking their fifth postseason berth over a six year span.
“Ever since we got back into the conference in 2008 it has been either Townsend or Manhattan,” said Rauh. “But there is a team (Jefferson) north of us that will be ready and waiting for when we get up there.”
Jefferson County High School (4-1, 1-0) routed Three Forks, 48-8, Friday night in its conference opener. (See story on Page B1)
Townsend and Jefferson will meet this Friday in another key league battle. The winner virtually assures themselves of a postseason berth.
Friday’s league loss was the first for Manhattan in three years — a span of 15 games. The last time Manhattan lost a conference game was in 2009 when Townsend beat the Tigers 35-15.
The Tigers were unable get their ground game on track. They were held to 63 yards rushing with quarterback Brock Bitterman rushing for 71 yards. Running back Quade McQueary was held to minus 16 yards, while Brady VanDyken finished with six yards.
At times Manhattan’s passing game was clicking, but there were also times when Bitterman didn’t have enough time to set up in the pocket.
“They were sending guys from every direction,” noted Grabowska. “Brock just didn’t have time to throw the ball tonight.”
Bitterman completed 20-of-28 passes for 183 yards and an interception. Gavin DeJong was on the receiving end of four of those passes for 68 yards. The Tigers finished with 246 total yards, while Townsend had 201.
Manhattan had its chances to put points on the scoreboard. The Tigers were in the red zone early in the third quarter, but a holding penalty pushed them back to the 31 yard line. Bitterman was sacked for an 8-yard loss. Then Manhattan was also on the 21 in the fourth quarter, but once again Bitterman was sacked for another 8-yard loss prior to throwing two incomplete passes.
The last opportunity for the Tigers to score came with three minutes left in the game. The Tigers were driving after taking the ball on their own 16. Bitterman hit McQueary for a 5-yard gain, then added seven more yards on a pass to VanDyken. The biggest play was a 39-yard pass to DeJong, moving the ball to Townsend’s six. But the next pass was picked off by Logan Domino, who returned it to the Tigers’ 33.
“We definitely did have our chances,” said Grabowska. “We didn’t capitalize. We have to move on and correct our mistakes and get ready for next week’s opponent.”
Manhattan’s only points came in the second quarter when Bitterman connected with McQueary for a 7-yard score with 4:51 to play in the half.
Grabowska noted that Manhattan has plenty of work to do, primarily along the offensive line, before playing seventh-ranked Fairfield this Friday.
“That’s something that we have to work on with our offensive line so that we can pick that up for next week,” he said.
Townsend 20, Manhattan 6
Townsend 0 13 7 0 - 20
Manhattan 0 6 0 0 - 6
Town - Logan Domino 3 pass from Cameron Mattson (Bryce Green kick), 8:27
Man - Quade McQueary 7 pass from Brock Bitterman (run failed), 4:51
Town - Green 19 pass from Mattson (kick failed), 2:37
Town - Green 3 run (Green kick), 5:52