MANHATTAN — On Friday night, the Manhattan Tigers finished their football season undefeated.
You’ve heard about their stellar offense and their fantastic quarterback, but they got it done with a hard-nosed defense.
“Get ready to get hit, every play we’re coming," said senior quarterback and defensive back Caden Holgate. "We’re looking to make the big hits, get turnovers, make big plays.”
“We’re hard-hitting, that’s all I know,” said senior tight end and defensive end Gabriel Delgatty.
The Tigers' defense might be one of the best in Class B, as they’ve been holding opposing offenses to minimal points all season.
“A lot of it’s preparation," said Manhattan head coach Chris Grabowska. "Got a lot of great assistant coaches, they do a great job of getting these kids ready. Our defensive coordinator, he watches a lot of film and gets these guys in the film room and on the field. Just showing them what they do, have a great great game plan every week and I think our kids that are really experienced are able to execute the great game plan on defense.”
They’re a defense that wants nothing more than to pop opposing teams in the mouth.
“It’s mentality, all the way," said senior lineman Sage Ellison. "We just go out with the mentality we’re going to beat them every play, be more physical, that’s what we do.”
“Tenacity," said Delgatty. "We want to go and hit someone every play. Everybody wants to be physical and go hit someone.”
“I think it started when they were younger kids," said Grabowska. "I do camps for those guys and they just love coming out and playing football. We got a lot of defensive-minded coaches on our staff. I played college football and defense too. It’s kind of a mindset you instill in your kids and that’s been a few years in the making.”
The defensive line, led by Delgatty and Ellison, wreaks havoc on opponents, blowing up many plays in the backfield.
“They’re crazy, they’re always in there," said Holgate. "They’re animals, they shed blocks, they make plays.”
Delgatty is committed to Montana Western to play football next year.
“Gabriel’s a beast, you already know," said Ellison. "Gabriel’s a beast every play.”
“Delgatty, he’s a beast.," Grabowksa said. "He’s going on to play college next year and there’s a reason for that. He’s been a three-year starter for us. He’s a big athletic kid. He loves to play defense. He just brings it every single play. He’s another one of those kids that leads by example.”
Ellison is in his first year as a defensive lineman and has shined when finally given the opportunity to play.
“Sage, he’s been around for four years and he’s finally got his opportunity and that’s kind of what it's like in the program," said Grabowska. "The kids get their opportunity, they step up and shine and Sage has been one of those kids this year. He’s a strong kid, athletic, he’s fast, he knows one speed. He’s got a motor that runs one speed all the time. He’s a great player that gets in on a lot of plays.”
However, that defensive line is missing a key cog in the middle. Senior Cayl Deboer suffered a serious injury two weeks ago, one that left him hospitalized.
“We’re all doing it for Cayl now," Delgatty said. "'For Cayl' is our new motto this year. We just want to win it for him.”
“Love the kid to death, it’s terrible what happened, we feel so bad," said Holgate. "That’s our thing right now, do it for Cayl and we’re going to give it out all for him.”
“I love you, Cayl, thank you so much for everything you've done for our whole team. We’re doing this for you,” said Ellison, who credits DeBoer with helping him grow in the player he is.
The team is doing it for Deboer as it tries to get back to the Class B state championship game, a game it lost last year.
“We’re fighting for it," Holgate said. "If we don’t get there, we’re going to give it our all trying. I hope we do.”
“We’re super driven," Ellison said. "It just made us more hungry, honestly.”
The undefeated regular season is nice, but come Monday, this team has to look past the amazing accomplishment.
“I told them in the huddle, enjoy this win for 48 hours," said Grabowska. "Come Monday, it’s time to work. Starting next Saturday, or actually starting this Monday, is when it counts. These games are the ones that matter now. You win, you move on, you lose you go home. That’s kind of our mindset going forward.”
Manhattan's first playoff game is a home game next Saturday at 1 p.m.