Hapless Topeka High next test for Free State

On paper, woeful Topeka High sits in a beneficial slot in Free State High’s football schedule between state powerhouse Olathe North and intra-city rival Lawrence High.

In fact, the only potential danger the Firebirds face is overlooking the Trojans and looking ahead to the Lions a mistake coach Bob Lisher stressed his players will not make.

“Not after the way we played last week,” Lisher said.

Kickoff will be at 7 tonight at Haskell Stadium.

Olathe North thumped the Firebirds, 35-7, in a battle of unbeatens last Friday in Olathe, and Lisher has emphasized fundamentals in practice this week.

“We had some breakdowns everywhere,” Lisher said. “Obviously, Olathe North is a great football team and if you don’t show up and play fundamentally sound you’ll be in a world of hurt.”

Meanwhile, Topeka High’s program has been in a world of hurt since opening the season with a 33-6 thrashing of Topeka Highland Park. Since then, the Trojans have lost five straight by a combined score of 231-13. Three of the five losses were shutouts.

Now is not the time, however, to take any team lightly. Today’s game marks the start of district play, and no one knows better than Lisher how teams can rise from the dead at this time of year.

Free State didn’t win a game in the first six weeks of the 2001 season, yet captured all three district games including a 34-14 decision over Topeka High and a stunning 16-0 blanking of Lawrence High.

What’s good for the goose can be good for the gander, meaning Topeka High (1-5) could emulate what the Firebirds did last season.

“Topeka High has struggled, but athletically they’re good,” Lisher said. “They’re very scary because they have a lot of athletic people.”

So do the Firebirds.

Quarterback Matt Berner is the top-rated passer in the Sunflower League. The senior signal-caller has completed 54.2 percent of his passes (65 of 120) for 1,054 yards and a league-leading 13 touchdowns.

Berner’s favorite receivers are Bijai Jones (25 catches for 373 yards and 4 TDs) and Dain Dillingham (20 catches for 439 yards and 4 TDs). Dillingham, a junior, averages 21.9 yards per catch, the highest average in the league.

Free State also features a solid running attack with tailback David Allen ( 405 yards on 76 carries) and Cole Douglas (335 yards on 48 carries). Douglas is also the loop’s top punter with a 38.0 average.

Tonight is theoretically the Firebirds’ home finale, even though they’ll play Lawrence High next Friday at Haskell Stadium. Free State will be the visitor and wear road uniforms against the Lions.

The Firebirds’ district finale will be at Washburn Rural in two weeks.