BJ Young, Tyce Hoover and Sam Shields had their hands locked together as they exited the Manhattan locker room at Bishop Stadium and walked onto the field Friday night. The Indians (9-1) were fresh off a 49-28 regional championship win over Lawrence-Free State (8-2) in the Class 6A playoffs.

The three seniors soon joined by another senior: Ben Bolte. The four of them talked with a couple Free State players at midfield, but that’s not why they were out there.

“We just had to admire our last time on Lew Lane Field,” Young said. “It was something special to look up at the lights. We’ll never get this time back, so we just had to go out there and embrace it.”

Manhattan embraced the challenge of playing Free State, as it exploded out to a 28-7 lead in the first half, led by a passing onslaught from quarterback Dayne Aschenbrenner.

The Indians got on the board when Lorenzo Wilhoite had a 7-yard run into the end zone, and the next drive Aschenbrenner found sophomore Joe Hall for a 91-yard pass play.

“They came out and were giving us the exact same front for every formation that we threw at them, completely disregarding the pass,” Manhattan head coach Joe Schartz said. “Even the corners. So Joe was wide open and we protected it. Dayne threw a nice ball and Joe was able to catch it. Sometimes when you are wide open like that, those are the most difficult to catch. That was a big play.”

Aschenbrenner had five completions for 199 yards, coupled with 15 rushes for 120 yards. The toss to Hall wasn’t the only explosive passing play in the game, though.

The Indians opened the second half with an 80-yard pass to Tyler Higgins, but it was how the ball got to the receiver that stood out. The play was broken for Manhattan from the start. Free State had three defenders with a chance to bring down Aschenbrenner as he rolled out to his right side. But he evaded the pressure.

He then threw across his body to the middle of the field, where the ball hit Higgins in the numbers.

“In pregame, Dayne was throwing the ball extremely well, and you could just see that he was totally locked in and that we’ve made a lot of improvement in our passing game,” Schartz said. “When people are playing man coverage and you are able to extend the play as a quarterback, those types of plays happen. Tyler is a competitor and found an open spot to catch Dayne’s eye. Dayne was able to spot him and stay alive long enough.”

Schartz pulled out a few tricks that were unorthodox for Manhattan. For instance, it’s usually Young and Aschenbrenner that dominate the rushing attack. They still did, combining for over 130 yards and two touchdowns. Yet on Friday, Wilhoite got the bulk of the yards, collecting 120 on 16 rushes.

“Nobody quit,” Young said. “We fought and didn’t care what the outsiders said. We came in here and handled business like we knew we could and got the job done.”

While Manhattan’s offense scored touchdowns on each of its first five drives and controlled the pace, the defense halted the talented rushing offense of Free State, led by Tyler Bowden.

“We tackled well,” Schartz said. “Bowden is a heck of a running back, and early on, they were feeding him the ball and we were tackling really well. That was the key to that. Once we got the lead, it forced them to go away from their running game, and we were able to pin our ears back and just pressure the quarterback. and we did a nice job of that tonight.”

Manhattan has its toughest test of the season next. Derby (10-0) is the top seed in the bracket and will host the Indians next Friday. While Schartz will soon lock his focus on that matchup, he wanted to remain in the moment for his team’s big win Friday night.

“Right now we are just enjoying this one,” Schartz said. “After every victory you get to enjoy it for about 10 to 12 hours, and so I’m still at that phase right now, enjoying this victory. The senior class is special, and this is their last game at Lew Lane Field and Bishop Stadium. It’s special people playing at a special place, and we are proud of who we are and where we come from.”

Manhattan 49,

Free State 28

Results

Manhattan 14 14 7 14 — 48

Hutchinson 7 0 7 14 — 28

First quarter

MHS – Wilhoite 7 run (kick good), 8:09

MHS – Hall 91 pass from Aschenbrenner (kick good), 5:59

LFS – Berry 2 run (kick good), 3:22

Second quarter

MHS – Young 2 run (kick good), 9:56

MHS – Aschenbrenner 1 run (kick good), 1:19

Third quarter

MHS – Higgins 80 pass from Aschenbrenner (kick good), 10:15

LFS – Bowden 24 run (kick good), 4:18

Fourth quarter

MHS – Wilhoite 8 run (kick good), 4:11

LHS – Bowden 32 runs (kick good), 2:22

MHS – Wilhoite 55 run (kick good), 2:06

LHS – Fanshier 40 pass from Berry (kick good), 0:59

Individual statistics

RUSHING — Manhattan: Wilhoite 16-120, Aschenbrenner 15-86, Young 17-51 // Free State: Bowden 19-122, Berry 7-24

PASSING — Manhattan: Aschenbrenner 5-8-0-199 , Free State: Berry 14-24-0-229

RECEIVING — Manhattan: Hall 1-91, Higgins 1-80, Hoover 1-15, Reid 1-15, Parker 1-(-2) // Free State: Preston 8-123, Bowden 2-18, Fanshier 1-40, Rainey 3-47