It matters not that Free State is in Class 6A and Shawnee Heights in 5A.
"This is the fourth year we've played them and every year it's gone down to the wire," Free State coach Bob Lisher said.
Like last year at Haskell Stadium when Shawnee Heights eked out a 21-13 win by stopping the Firebirds on the one-yard line in the last minute.
Meeting No. 4 will be tonight at the Thunderbirds' field in Tecumseh. Kickoff is 7 p.m.
"I think we're hyped because we're so close in geography," Lisher said. "But with them being in Class 5A they have the motivation to beat a Sunflower League school."
Free State opened at home last Friday, bowing to Shawnee Mission West, 27-24, when the Vikings mounted a game-winning 79-yard drive in the fourth quarter.
During much of that drive, the Firebirds were without both their senior inside linebackers -- Jeremiah Gress and Walker Douglas. Gress was in and out with leg cramps while Douglas was out with a mild concussion.
"Leadership-wise is where we missed them," Lisher said.
Douglas, a 6-foot-1, 215-pounder who also starts at fullback, has been given clearance to play tonight. And Gress, hopefully, won't suffer leg cramps.
"Gress has done a great job for us at linebacker and tight end," Lisher said. "His work ethics are very good."
Going into the opener, Lisher was undecided about starting Matt Berner or Chris Longino at quarterback. Berner will start tonight after completing 11 of 21 passes for 131 yards and one TD against SM West.
"Right now he's the starter," Lisher said of Berner, a 5-foot-11, 180-pound junior. "He did some good things last week."
Longino, who starts at free safety, will be the backup QB and also play some wide receiver. Also scheduled to play wide receiver this week is Brandon Jackson who started at tailback last week.
Lisher plans to open with David Allen at tailback tonight and use Jackson more as a pass catcher.
"We need to get him outside," Lisher said of Jackson, a 5-7, 140-pound senior who gained only 17 yards in nine carries last week.
Lisher also needs a place-kicker. Chris Treanor, who was perfect on three extra points and kicked a 21-yard field goal last week, suffered a back injury in practice on Monday and is out.
Treanor will be replaced by either Kyle Frank or Bijai Jones, both juniors.
Shawnee Heights has nine starters back from last year's 5-4 team. The T-Birds opened last week with a 19-12 win at Kansas City Wyandotte.
"Our kids have to show up," Lisher said. "We've been stressing being mentally and physically tough. The main thing is not to give up big plays."
Free State will be on the road again next week. The Firebirds have a Thursday game at Shawnee Mission South.
-- Sports editor Chuck Woodling can be reached at 832-7147.