There is still one game remaining in the regular season, but Manhattan already knows where it will be playing when the postseason begins Oct. 31.
The Tigers clinched the Southern B crown Friday, as well as a first round home game in the Class B playoffs, after rallying to beat Townsend 29-14.
Manhattan (7-0, 5-0 Southern B), which claimed its second consecutive conference crown, would host in the second round with a win. But seventh-year Tigers coach Chris Grabowska is not looking ahead.
“We’re going to worry about Boulder (Jefferson) next week. They’re always well coached and they’re ready, and they play us hard all the time. So we got to take care of that game first,” he said. “I guess getting this win and the conference title is huge for having home field advantage.”
Townsend (5-2, 4-1 Southern B) scored on its second play of the game after receiving the opening kickoff. Trey Hoveland delivered a perfect pass down the sideline to Gavin Vandenacre, who raced 75 yards for a touchdown.
“They (Townsend) came out, they scored right away. Just kind of stuck with our game plan and chipped away, and just got back in the game,” said Grabowska. “Kind of established our run game and took our shots when we need to.”
Manhattan got within 7-6 late in the first quarter after quarterback Caden Holgate scored on a 12-yard run. The PAT failed, but the Tigers pulled in front 8-7 in the second quarter after the Bulldogs snapped the ball out of the endzone on a punt for a safety.
A short time later Holgate threw the ball to Tate Bowler behind the line of scrimmage, and the senior receiver then threw a double pass to Corban Johnson for an easy touchdown. The Tigers took a 16-7 lead into halftime and then extended it to 22-7 in the third quarter.
But, Grabowska noted, Manhattan struggled to finish drives throughout the second half and Holgate was picked off three times in the contest.
“We drove the ball the whole second half pretty much,” he said. “Turned the ball over once or twice in the red zone.”
Still, the Tigers stretched the lead to 29-7 in the fourth when Holgate and Bowler connected for a touchdown. And later in the quarter, Holgate, who also plays safety, picked off a pass by Hoveland.
Townsend did get within 15 when Hoveland and Vandenacre hooked up again for another score, and had a chance to cut into the lead late when Holgate was intercepted for the third time.
But the Tigers slammed the door shut when linebacker Sven Stenberg picked off Hoveland.
Afterwards, Grabowska acknowledged it was a big win for his veteran team.
“They’re (Townsend) definitely a good team. They’re well prepared,” he said. “But our kids have been in a lot of close games before, they know what it takes to get the job done. They just kind of used their experience tonight to stay in the game and not lose sight of what they wanted.”
Manhattan wraps up the regular season hosting Jefferson in a conference game Oct. 23.
Editor’s note: The Tigers have won 18 of their past 19 games dating back to last year, and have outscored their opponents 312-56 thus far. Two of their victories have been against top-five ranked teams in Class B.
Manhattan 29, Townsend 14
Manhattan 6 10 6 7 - 29
Townsend 7 0 0 7 - 14
Tow - Gavin Vandenacre 75 pass from Trey Hoveland (kick good)
Man - Caden Holgate 13 run (kick failed)
Man - Safety, snap out of endzone
Man - Corban Johnson pass from Tate Bowler (run good)
Man - Scoring play unknown
Man - Bowler pass from Holgate
Tow - Vandenacre pass from Hoveland (kick good)