Free State falls in regional playoffs to Manhattan, 21-7

photo by: Landon Cory/Special to the Journal-World

Free State running back Grant Lincoln carries the ball on Friday, Nov. 3, 2023, in Manhattan.

Manhattan — Free State fell to Manhattan 21-7 in the second round of the 6A football playoffs Friday night at Manhattan, ending its season in the regional round.

The Firebirds (7-3) could not come back from an 14-0 halftime deficit as the Indians (9-1), recorded nearly 300 rushing yards to take control and punch their ticket to the sectional round of the postseason.

“I’m proud of the guys for battling,” FSHS coach Kevin Stewart said. “We lost three games this year and I felt like we were as good as every team we lost too. We just aren’t quite there yet and little things make a difference in big ball games. I’m very proud of the guys.”

Following three-and-outs forced by each defense on the game’s first two drives, several long runs from Jaydin Hudley put Manhattan at midfield, with a 31-yard run from quarterback Carter Aslin setting up the Indians in goal-to-go territory at the Free State 5-yard line. Two plays later, Hudley finished the drive off with a 2-yard touchdown run, handing the home team a 7-0 lead with 5:37 left in the opening quarter.

On the Firebirds’ next possession, Wesley Edison pushed to midfield but Free State had to punt it away after an incomplete pass on third down.

Free State’s defense, however, stood tall and forced a third-and-long early in the second quarter, leading to a stop and a chance to even the game. But the Firebirds couldn’t move the ball effectively, forcing another punt at the eight minute mark of the second quarter.

Hudley and Aslin continued to lead the ground game on Manhattan’s next drive, with a 29-yard run from Aslin setting up the Indians deep into Free State territory. From there, a 20-yard touchdown run from Aslin increased the Manhattan lead to 14-0, with 4:56 left in the first half.

Despite starting at its own 35-yard line when Manhattan’s kickoff went out of bounds, Free State could not convert a critical third down pass, bringing out Yusef Iskandrani and the punt team late in the first half.

Manhattan tried to tack on to its lead going into halftime, but Free State’s defense held the Indians to bring on the MHS punt team, as the Firebirds aimed to cut the deficit once more before halftime.

Two passes from Edison to Grant Lincoln put the Firebirds into Manhattan territory, but no points came from the drive after a 51-yard field goal attempt from Iskandrani came up short. The second-seeded Indians led 14-0 at the break.

“We were telling our defense to hang in there,” Stewart said. “We just couldn’t put the points on the board. There’s still opportunities that we just missed but that’s part of football.”

To begin the second half, Devon Hamilton led the Firebirds offense with two critical receptions and, along with a 34-yard run from Edison, Free State crossed into Manhattan territory looking to get on the board. However, a fourth-down sack gave the ball back to Manhattan at midfield, with eight minutes remaining in the third quarter.

On the ensuing drive, Charles Morgan rushed for 17 yards on the first play, leading his team into Free State territory. Despite the Firebirds nearly forcing a fumble, Aslin finished the drive off with a 6-yard score, putting his team up 21-0.

Edison and the Firebirds responded however on their next drive, with three passes to Hamilton and a 16-yard run from Edison setting up Free State deep in Manhattan territory. From there, Edison found Lincoln for a 7-yard score, cutting into the Manhattan lead at 21-7 late in the third quarter.

After the Free State defense forced a turnover on downs deep in their own territory, Edison wasted no time and found Hamilton for a 41-yard reception to close out the quarter with Free State still in striking distance, down 14 through three quarters.

The drive was cut short, however, after JJ Dunnigan picked off Edison on a deep throw into the end zone, giving possession back to the Indians, up 21-7, in the early stages of the fourth quarter.

Following another defensive stand by the Firebirds, Edison and Free State marched down the field and used receptions from Hamilton, Landon Leipold, and Liam Stramberg to put FSHS into Manhattan territory once again. Several plays later on fourth-and-7, however, Edison’s pass went incomplete to hand the ball back to the Indians, with less than five minutes remaining.

From there, a late drive for the Firebirds came up short, and Free State ended the season with a 7-3 record following Friday’s loss in the regional round of the 6A playoffs.

“I’ll remember how the seniors grew over four years,” Stewart said. “For the last two years the guys really bought in and fought hard. They’ve done a nice job for us.”

Game stats

Manhattan 21, Free State 7


First downs 10 | 14

Rushes-yards 21-101 | 44-283

Passing yards 145 | 37

Total offense 246 | 320

Fumbles-lost 0-0 | 1-0

Interceptions 1 | 0

Penalties-yards 2-31 | 6-65

Score by quarters

Free State 0 0 7 0 – 7

Manhattan 7 7 7 0 – 21

How they scored

1st Quarter:

05:36 – Jaydin Hudley 2-yard run. Rylan Vikander kick good. (MHS 7 FS 0)

2nd Quarter:

04:56 – Carter Aslin 20-yard run. Vikander kick good. (MHS 14 FS 0)

3rd Quarter:

04:28 – Aslin 6-yard run. Vikander kick good. (MHS 21 FS 0)

03:00 – Grant Lincoln 7-yard pass from Wesley Edison. Yusef Iskandrani kick good. (MHS 21 FS 7)

Individual statistics


FS: Wesley Edison 16-94; Grant Lincoln 5-7

MHS: Carter Aslin 25-158; Charles Morgan 4-43; Jaydin Hudley 15-82


FS: Wesley Edison 16-28-145

MHS: Carter Aslin 6-13-37


FS: Devon Hamilton 8-84; Grant Lincoln 5-50; Landon Leipold 2-4; Liam Stramberg 1-7

MHS: Charles Morgan 2-21; Talon Huff 2-13; Klayton Koerner 1-5; Landon Dobson 1-(-2)

photo by: Landon Cory/Special to the Journal-World

Free State quarterback Wesley Edison looks to throw against Manhattan on Friday, Nov. 3, 2023, in Manhattan.

photo by: Landon Cory/Special to the Journal-World

Free State wide receiver Ethan Prescott returns a punt against Manhattan on Friday, Nov. 3, 2023, in Manhattan.

photo by: Landon Cory/Special to the Journal-World

Free State linebacker Coby Ochsner tackles Manhattan ball carrier Jaydin Hudley on Friday, Nov. 3, 2023, in Manhattan.

photo by: Landon Cory/Special to the Journal-World

Free State linebacker Parker Moore tackles Manhattan ball carrier Landon Dobson on Friday, Nov. 3, 2023 in Manhattan.

photo by: Landon Cory/Special to the Journal-World

Free State quarterback Wesley Edison rushes the ball against Manhattan Friday, Nov. 3, 2023, in Manhattan.


Welcome to the new Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.