Manhattan certainly didn’t need any more motivation entering this Class B football season after finishing runner-up in 2019. The Tigers didn’t need any reinforcements either, but they got some.
Senior wide receiver and defensive back Tate Bowler was an all-conference performer for Belgrade last year but is earning his stripes as a Tiger in 2020.
“It was just better opportunity for me and my family as a whole. Kind of a family decision. That was a big part of it," Bowler said. "The culture is a huge difference. These guys come to work hard every single day. I can tell that bitter taste in their mouth from last year. It encourages me, as well, because I know how bad they want it."
Bowler’s emergence as a playmaker on both sides of the ball has given Manhattan another explosive weapon. Along with Bowler, junior Corban Johnson has stepped up to give the Tigers a potent one-two punch on the outside.
“Tate, he’s a great player. He’s explosive, he’s smart, he’s fit in really well with our team. Like you saw (Friday), he makes big plays. That’s what he brings to our team, is just an explosive playmaker," Manhattan head coach Chris Grabowska said. "The offense is doing a good job of complementing the defense this year. We’ve got some great playmakers. Obviously, our quarterback (Caden Holgate) is doing a great job this year. He’s getting better every week. He sees the field well and does a great job of commanding the offense.”
“We have so many options. I don’t even know where to start. For a defense, it’s tough to guard. We have a great (offensive) line and a great quarterback who can make good decisions," Bowler said. "They can’t just focus on one thing. They’ve got to cover every single one.”
Manhattan can punish teams by air or by ground, though. The Tigers feature a bevy of ballcarriers and a powerful offensive line that can wear teams down throughout the course of a game.
“I think it’s just sharing the ball. Nobody ever knows who’s going to have a game this week. We had guys out but people filled in and we just had games," Johnson said.
“It’s nice to be balanced, but it’s nice to go deep in the playoffs and when the weather gets colder to have that run game. It’s nice to rely on that. We definitely have that going, so it’s a good thing to have," Grabowska said.
While Manhattan has put up more than 40 points in four consecutive games, it’s been the defensive side of the ball where the Tigers have been most impressive. They’ve allowed just two touchdowns in the past four weeks and have given up a total of 42 points in five games.
“Our defense has been our strength, actually, of our team for a few years. Our kids, they love playing defense. It's a mentality. Every week they go in and just prepare well," Grabowska said.
The Tigers are going to need every bit of firepower on both sides of the ball to get over the hump in 2020. Last year’s loss still lingers, but it’s in the rearview mirror.
“There’s plenty of bitter taste," Johnson said. "I didn’t play a whole lot last year, but we know what it feels like and we’re just trying to get back to where we were."
“I tell them every week to enjoy the victory for 48 hours. There’s always something to get better at. There’s another opponent. We don’t take anybody lightly," Grabowska said. "Monday we’ve got to come ready to work and get ready for Big Timber next week. They’re going to be a good team and we’ve just got to be ready for them.”
The Tigers can move one step closer to locking up the Southern B with a Week 7 win at Big Timber.