Firebirds just wanna have fun.
One week after losing to previously winless Shawnee Mission East, Free State High's football team toppled previously undefeated SM West, 28-7, on Thursday night at Shawnee Mission South District Stadium.
"In order to have fun you've got to win," said FSHS senior fullback-linebacker Jake Lawrence, who had 17 carries for 145 yards and three touchdowns. "That was the main thing we were hoping to get."
The Firebirds (4-2 overall, 3-2 Sunflower League) also were hoping to get their secondary turned around against the Vikings (5-1, 5-1).
After being scorched for 238 passing yards and four touchdown passes against SM East, Free State ranked last in the league in pass defense.
But the Firebirds' defensive backs were back against SM West.
"We knew they were a passing team so we set up the coverages to deal with that," said FSHS senior free safety Brian Erb, who had two of the Firebirds' five interceptions -- both school records. "Last week we got picked apart back there and it was pretty embarrassing for the secondary. We'd been working hard on that all week, working on breaking on the ball and going up and getting it.
"Apparently it worked."
While the Vikings gained 152 of their 310 total yards and 12 of their 19 first downs in the second half, the Firebirds had four interceptions, including two in the end zone by senior cornerback Tay Ogunnowo and Erb. Senior safety Jim Lewis had the final INT.
"We had a lot of different people making interceptions and making plays in the secondary," FSHS coach Bob Lisher said. "And we had people coming up and making some big hits in the secondary, and that was exciting."
Perhaps the play that turned the game around, however, was a fumble recovery by the Firebirds.
After Free State had taken a 14-7 lead with 8:54 remaining in the half, SM West fumbled the ensuing kickoff and it was recovered by -- who else? -- Erb. Five plays later, the Firebirds had claimed a 21-7 lead.
"You turn the ball over anytime, especially against a good team like Free State ... ," SM West coach Jon Krug said without finishing his thought. "We knew going in, ball control was where it was going to be. That was a big play. No doubt about it."
For the third week in a row the Vikings found themselves trailing at the half, this time 28-7. Unlike the past two games when SM West came from behind to knock off SM East and SM South, the Firebirds didn't relent.
In fact, neither team was able to find the end zone after intermission.
"We mentioned it," Lisher said. "We wanted to make sure they were aware of it so there wouldn't be any letdowns."
While Free State's offense stalled in the second half -- managing a mere 32 yards and no first downs -- the Firebirds were flying in the first two quarters.
In addition to Lawrence's three touchdowns, Free State also scored on senior quarterback Nate Vail's one-yard sneak. Vail completed six of 13 passes for 72 yards in the first half.
Senior tailback Chris Wheatley also contributed to the offense in the first half with nine carries for 61 yards, and senior tight end T.K. Peterson had both of his catches for 35 yards before the break.
"In the first half we were doing pretty doggone good offensively," Lisher said, "and defensively we were hanging in there, keeping ourselves in it and giving ourselves field position, so forth and so on.
"In the second half we didn't do a whole lot on offense and our defense had to play a lot and they made the plays."
One of the leaders of that defense appreciated the magnitude of the win against SM West, which could have clinched at least a share of the Sunflower League championship with a win.
"This is a really big win because a lot of people were down and it was a bad weekend last week," said Erb, who returned his second interception 46 yards. "It could have gone either way tonight. We came out and played and got a big win which brings us back up to the top instead of deeper down in the cellar.
"It was huge tonight to come out and turn it around and definitely dominate a game."
Next for Free State is a district game at Leavenworth on Oct. 15. Kickoff is 6 p.m. at Abeles Field.
"I'm awfully pleased with what our kids accomplished tonight," Lisher said. "There's no doubt about that. I think they should be very thrilled with the way they played and how hard they played."
-- Robert Sinclair's phone message number is 832-7185. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.