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It’s the final week of the 2019 regular season, with league and district titles in the balance and one final chance to improve playoff seeding. The action in the city starts Thursday night, so a day earlier than usual, here’s a Week Eight preview…

MANHATTAN (6-1) at HIGHLAND PARK (0-7)
Hummer Sports Park, Topeka
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The Indians can share the Centennial League championship with a victory. It would be the fourth straight season that Manhattan has claimed a league crown, as well as the 10th time in 11 years, all under head coach Joe Schartz. All expectations are that this will be a routine win for the Indians over a Highland Park team still struggling with numbers and experience. But Scots coach Mike Foristiere has been proud of how his team has competed and how their understanding of the game has improved throughout the season, and they’ll give the Indians everything they’ve got.

KEY TO THE GAME: Foristiere said his Highland Park players were more frequently in the right place to make tackles last week against Washburn Rural but struggled to make those plays. If they can improve their tackling this week, they will make Manhattan earn their way down the field.

WASHBURN RURAL (2-5) at SEAMAN (2-5)
Don Pierce Field, Topeka
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Both the Junior Blues and the Vikings will feel disappointed about how their seasons have unfolded to this point, record-wise, but they also know they can go into the playoffs with a lot of momentum with a win in their finale. For Washburn Rural, first-half frustration has given way to second-half improvement, and they’ve started finding rhythm on offense thanks to the continued improvement of quarterback Cooper Carlgren and the cohesiveness formed on the offensive line. Seaman’s depth has been ravaged by injuries, but they remain a disciplined and tough foe and their own signal caller, Reid Cowan, has gotten better each week as well. Don’t be shocked if these two talented junior QBs continue their breakouts and produce a high-scoring affair in north Topeka.

KEY TO THE GAME: As much as both quarterbacks have deserved credit for their play of late, how both teams establish the running game – Washburn Rural with Jalen Carter‘s speed and Seaman with Nathan Zeferjahn‘s power – will be critical in this game for putting their respective offenses ahead of the chains and sustaining scoring drives.

LANSING (4-3) at SHAWNEE HEIGHTS (3-4)
Lester Wetter Field, Tecumseh

It’s a crowded mix in the middle of the 5A East bracket, with six teams, including these two, sitting at 4-3 or 3-4. Four of those teams will get to host first-round games, and if Heights wants to be one of them, they’d better find their way past the Lions, who beat them 27-19 last season. Lansing has won three straight after a 1-3 start while the T-Birds saw their two-game winning streak snapped by UKC champion De Soto last week. Heights must put the nightmarish start, and result, from last week’s game in the past and get back to what they do best – taking care of the ball on offense with the running game, and winning in the trenches defensively.

KEY TO THE GAME: Turnovers are always a key, and when Heights has managed to avoid them they’ve had success moving the ball. Hunter Wohler and Davion Gardenhire must secure the rock in the ground game and keep the chains moving for the T-Birds to score the victory.

TOPEKA WEST (1-6) at TOPEKA HIGH (6-1)
Hummer Sports Park, Topeka

The Trojans will have an opportunity to keep a share of the Centennial League title in the capital city for a third straight year with a win. It would be the sixth time in Walt Alexander’s time on the sidelines that Topeka High had at least a piece of the league championship.  Though the Trojans were dinged up a bit in a physical 27-0 win over Emporia last week, it pales in comparison to the injury issues that have plagued West all season. High has beaten West 13 consecutive times in this long-held city rivalry affair.

KEY TO THE GAME: The Trojan defense came out against Emporia last week with something to prove. If they maintain that same energy this Friday night, they might just post their second consecutive shutout – but if they don’t, West has enough athletes to pop a few explosive plays.

WELLSVILLE (3-4) at HAYDEN (6-1)
Hayden Field, Topeka

Despite their shocking overtime defeat to Perry-Lecompton last week, Hayden still holds their postseason fate in their own hands. If the Wildcats win by three or more points, they will be the champions of 3A District 3, finishing ahead on point differential regardless of the results of games for Perry-Lecompton and Jeff West. For that to happen, Hayden must find their footing on offense much earlier than they did last week, and also slow down an Eagle offense that put 23 points on Jeff West last week – more than the Tigers had allowed the previous six weeks combined.

KEY TO THE GAME: Hayden’s run game is all about being physical – not just the ball carriers, but the linemen leading the way as well. They lacked in that category last week, but better energy and focus early in the game can get the Wildcats back in the groove.

And elsewhere in the 580 Preps coverage area tonight…

Burlington (4-3) at Anderson County (4-3)
Free State (6-1) at Lawrence (7-0)
Jackson Heights (5-2) at Lyndon (7-0)
Junction City (6-1) at Emporia (4-3)
Lebo (5-2) at Burlingame (4-3)
Northern Heights (4-3) at Wabaunsee (1-6)
Osage City (4-3) at McLouth (0-7)
Oskaloosa (3-4) at Silver Lake (7-0)
Perry-Lecompton (4-3) at Bishop Ward (0-7)
Rock Creek (3-4) at Smoky Valley (1-6)
Rossville (5-2) at Mission Valley (2-5)
Royal Valley (1-6) at Sabetha (5-2)
Santa Fe Trail (4-3) at Jeff West (6-1)
St. Marys (2-5) at Riley County (5-2)
Troy (2-5) at JCN (4-3)
Valley Falls (1-6) at Maranatha (5-2)
Wamego (6-1) at Holton (5-2)

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