Game Preview: Free State vs. Manhattan

Firebirds prepare to take on best opponent yet in state quarterfinals

Following a 51-27 victory over Haysville Campus in the second round, the 10-0 Firebirds look to take down the 9-1 Manhattan Indians.

Last season, Free State was eliminated in this round of the playoffs by the Derby Panthers. This year the Firebirds have to beat a strong Manhattan defense to advance to the semifinals.

Manhattan is led by senior running back Kevontae McDonald, who has been a big contributor to Manhattan’s successful season.

“We’ve been going hard on team offense and defense,” senior linebacker and offensive lineman Shane Skwarlo said. “Our scout team has given us a great look, and we’ve been preparing a lot for their running back—doing different checks on defense and different formations and plays to stop him.”

Moving the ball on offense will be challenging due to the strong defensive line of Manhattan.

“Their defensive line is like the base of their whole team,” junior offensive lineman Kyle Flachsbarth said. “There’s going to be a lot of pressure on our offensive line this week.”

Connecting with receiver Keenan Garber has been the Firebirds go-to method for putting up points. Tonight, that may be affected due to weather conditions which will make it difficult to pass the ball.

With snow on the ground and dropping temperatures, each team’s game plan could be altered. As of Friday morning, the predicted temperature at kickoff is 22 degrees.  

“We’ll try to run the ball and connect deep with the pass,” senior receiver Peyton Sparks said.

The Firebirds are competing in their seventh consecutive quarterfinal game, a win tonight would put the Firebirds in the semifinals where they would face the winner of Derby and Topeka High.

“It’s the quarterfinals. There’s eight teams left, and this is the two [seed] versus three [seed],”  Skwarlo said. “It’s going to be a fun game.” Skwarlo said.

Prediction: Free State 21—Manhattan 7