Preview: Free State football hopes to halt skid in first round of playoffs
photo by: Carter Gaskins/Special to the Journal-World
Following a 6-2 regular season campaign, the seventh-seeded Free State football team begins its playoff run this week, with its first round game against 10th-seeded Garden City set for a 7 p.m. kickoff Friday night at Free State High School.
Despite losing the last two games of the regular season, the Firebirds look to get back to their winning ways, grounded in the same mindset that they preached all season long.
“We’ve had a great year and we’ve had a really good season,” FSHS coach Kevin Stewart said. “I told the guys we don’t want to start the process over now until next season. This week is a big game.”
Even with the two close defeats, FSHS has battled hard in each of its eight games in the regular season, led by standout performances from quarterback Wesley Edison and running back Grant Lincoln.
Additionally, the confidence of the team has never wavered, and that remains the case heading into the games that matter most, in the postseason.
“We told them we believe we’re as good as anybody,” Stewart said. “We’re a handful of plays away from being undefeated and we can’t lose confidence in ourselves just because we lost a couple games. We have to win this week, however, otherwise it doesn’t matter.”
The tough schedule for the Firebirds has set them up nicely for a deep postseason run, after competing in a Sunflower League that saw six teams, including Free State, finish with at least a 6-2 record in the regular season.
Whether it’s the speed or tempo of how teams in the Sunflower League play, Stewart hopes it serves his team well as they face new types of competition the rest of the way.
“Our season now comes down to one game so it’s a full go at this point,” Stewart said. “I’m excited to see how the guys compete against a different type of conference. Our schedule has been solid and hopefully that prepares us for the playoffs.”
As for Garden City, the Buffaloes (5-3) will look to get back in the win column themselves, after falling 35-21 to Great Bend to close out their regular season a week ago.
However, Garden City is still winners of two of its last three games, including a victory over Dodge City 30-13 in Week 7 of the regular season, and Stewart understands the Buffaloes can be tough to match up against on both sides of the ball.
“They’re a good football team and their offensive line is the best aspect of their team,” Stewart said. “They run the flexbone offense with a lot of triple option and it’s going to be a hard offense to stop. Their defensive line is physical and aggressive. I think we’re going to have a great opportunity to win the game but it doesn’t mean we will.”
With the Firebirds hoping to start their postseason run off on the right foot, taking one play at a time remains most important as FSHS aims to get back on track.
“We have to do our job and be disciplined,” Stewart said. “It goes back to the same message about being 1-0 every week. We have to make sure we’re sound on our assignments, especially on defense but offense as well.”