Lincoln football hasn't made playoffs since 1984. This year's team hopes to change that

Railsplitters take their last lap in Apollo with eyes on playoffs

Ryan Mahan
State Journal-Register
Lincoln High School's Isaac Decker passes the ball during football practice on Wednesday August 17, 2022.

LINCOLN — With 4-5 records in each of the previous two fall seasons, the Lincoln football team has one goal in mind.  

“Every year you hear the playoff thing, and at the end of the day, I think that’s really what would be successful for us,” Lincoln coach Matt Silkowski said. “We felt like last year if some things had went our way, we could’ve gotten in. That’s what ultimate success would be for us: to play Week 10.” 

For a program that hasn’t qualified for the playoffs since 1984, that seems like a monumental task.

But Silkowski said he has plenty of reason for optimism. He calls this group of Railsplitters the strongest team he’s had in his seven seasons at the Lincoln helm. The fastest team, too. On top of those traits, the team is experienced, eager and energetic.  

It also might be the Railers’ last best chance to play in the postseason for a while. Lincoln is entering its final season in the Apollo Conference and will rejoin the Central State Eight next year. The school left the CS8 following the 2016-17 school year in an unpopular move outside the local football circle that was seen as a football-only move by people in Lincoln and outside of it.  

More: Lincoln, CS8 will miss each otherRyan Mahan: Lincoln basketball and the Central State Eight will sure miss each other

The Railsplitters' Ki'on Carson reaches for a pass during football practice on Wednesday, August 17, 2022.

Lincoln won just 39 football games while it was a member of the CS8 from 1993 through 2016.  

None of that matters right now to the football-playing Railers. Silkowski sees what he has in front of him, and he’s enthusiastic about this team. 

“There’s definitely a different feel this summer,” Silkowski said. “Obviously every team is unique; the make-up is different. This team likes to have fun, but they work very hard, and they’re very smart.  

“This summer is different because we’re so further advanced along the way. I think special teams gets neglected in June and July. We were working on punt team, punt return and PAT in July.” 

This offseason might be the start of something special

Silkowski, admittedly a run-first coach, has two fun options to play with there in junior Ki’on Carson and senior Isaac Decker. Carson led the Railers rushing unit last year with 628 yards and seven touchdowns on 83 carries. Decker added 299 yards and four TDs on 60 rushes.  

“Decker’s a really good skilled player,” Carson said. “Me and him are both pretty skilled at our positions, and we just get the job done.” 

Decker added of the tandem: “Me and Ki’on push each other because we strive to be better than one another — but not because we don’t like each other but because we’re competitive. He’s a speed runner and I’m more of a power-inside guy.” 

It isn’t just Silkowski who sees something different with this group of Railsplitters. 

“We have a better chemistry than we had last year,” Carson said. “A lot of us are closer with each other this year, and our seniors are role models.” 

Decker added, “We’ve all got great attitudes, we’ve got great athletes — very athletic, all of us. We’re all playmakers, and I think we can pass the extra step and get there.” 

Lincoln football coach Matt Silkowski, left, talks with Isaac Decker between drills during football practice on Wednesday, August 17, 2022.

Last season’s outside linebacker, Darren Stevens, will replace the graduated Elijah Pollice at quarterback.  The junior will have much of the receiving production back in last year’s top two pass catchers Carson and Decker. Juniors Trey Schilling and Jaden Leadley give Lincoln 67 of its 79 completions and 1,184 yards of 1,409 yards from 2021. 

“We’ve got some good receivers too,” Silkowski said. “We’ve got a couple of guys back out who couldn’t play last year due to some various injuries or reasons. We have a very good receiving corps, and we have a quarterback who throws a very good ball — is very accurate with it and makes very good decisions. 

“The run game should open up the passing game and the play-action game. We run the wing-T, and we use that deception in our favor: We’ve got guys going all over the place, and it’s fun.” 

Lincoln graduated just three skill position players in 2021.  

Lincoln High School's Payton Johnson, center, goes through football drills on Wednesday, August 17, 2022.

Senior linebacker Payton Johnson, who led Lincoln with 79 tackles last year, said this offseason might be the start of something special. 

“The team chemistry this year is definitely there,” Johnson said. “I feel everybody’s close with everybody. We all feel like we’re great friends on and off the field so it’s really nice to be able to play with people like that.” 

Taking one week at a time

It’s likely that there were some parents of current players who weren’t born the last time Lincoln made the playoffs. There have been 10 winless seasons in those 38 years, including the 0-6 record in the COVID-19-shortened 2020-21 season.  

But none of that matters to these players. It’s as much history to them as 1984. They want to write a new chapter in the record books. 

“It would make history,” Decker said of a playoff berth. “Everyone in town would remember this year, this team. It would be great for our school: we’d come in the next day, the next week and everyone would be blowing up.” 

Lincoln High School's Isaac Decker, center, hands the ball off to Ki'on Carson, left, during football practice on Wednesday, August 17, 2022.

Johnson, too, has had this as a goal.  

“That’s always been the goal for me, personally speaking, to be one of the people who can say they did it after such a legacy of not being able to do it,” Johnson said. 

But Carson said the thing that makes coaches smile: “We’re going to take it one week at a time. We’re focused on the team that week.  

“That’s kind of our thing.” 

Lincoln High School's Colbie Glenn, left, goes up for a pass during football practice on Wednesday, August 17. 2022.

Contact Ryan Mahan: 788-1546,,