Free State football falls 42-21 at second-seeded Junction City
photo by: Chance Parker
Despite playing one of their best first halves of the season, the Free State Firebirds football team fell to second-seeded Junction City, 42-21, on Friday night in the first round of the Class 6A state playoffs in Junction City.
The loss ended the Firebirds’ season at 0-6, but Free State coach Kevin Stewart said he would remember the 2020 season for much more than his team’s record.
“Wins and losses are always what people will look at and remember,” Stewart said. “But that really doesn’t tell the whole story with this group. They worked hard all season and dealt with a lot, and I’m proud of the way they handled it.”
Free State jumped out to leads of 7-0 and 14-7 on Friday before heading into the locker room tied at 14 at the half.
Free State got first-half touchdowns from Jacobee Williams (2-yard run) and Jet Dineen (9-yard run) and the Blue Jays picked up two TD runs from senior DJ Giddons.
From there, Junction City’s offense continued to score and its defense stiffened, forcing a few Free State three-and-outs and keeping the Firebirds off the scoreboard until the 1:50 mark of the fourth quarter, when Williams scored from three yards out to cut the JCHS lead to 42-21.
The Blue Jays (7-1) flipped the game early in the third quarter, when they picked up long touchdown passes of 80 and 40 yards from senior quarterback Andre Khoury to senior wide receiver Marcello Bussey.
“That was a huge momentum swing when they hit the two big plays,” Stewart said. “You go from a tie game to down two scores.”
That JCHS duo added another short touchdown in the fourth quarter to put the game away.
After seeing just three flags thrown for penalties in the first half, the second half was full of starts and stops, as the teams combined for 14 second-half penalties.
Stewart said he was proud of the way his team fought to the end on Friday and he noted that, most seasons, six games marks closer to the midway mark of a season rather than the end. With so many juniors and first-time varsity players in key roles, Stewart said he believed that if this group had a few more games to play, it might have found more success later in the season.
“The win-loss record was a disappointment, but the kids were not a disappointment,” Stewart said. “I’m proud of the way they represented Free State tonight. I really am. That’s all I can say. We played hard, we fought and we had a chance to win.”
Stewart added that he was particularly thankful for the play and fight of his 26 seniors all season.
“They have been committed to this program for four years, they’ve seen some really good football here at Free State and they did a great job sticking through this season,” he said. “I think we were a pretty good team. We’re just not top-five or top-10 in the state at this moment, and we’re playing one of those teams every week.”
No. 15 Free State 7 7 0 7 — 21
No. 2 Junction City 0 14 21 7 — 42