Archive for Friday, October 3, 2003

Firebirds making adjustments

Winless Leavenworth boasts potent offense

October 3, 2003

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Free State High has the Sunflower League's most dangerous pass receiver in Dain Dillingham.

Yet running backs Cole Douglas and Will Malcolm may be the Firebirds' key players in tonight's league battle against winless Leavenworth.

Kickoff will be at 7 p.m. at Abeles Field in Leavenworth.

"Leavenworth has struggled against the run," Free State coach Bob Lisher said, "so we'll try to get some yards rushing."

Leavenworth, in fact, ranks dead last in the league in rushing defense, total defense and scoring defense. The Pioneers are surrendering 40.5 points a game.

Leavenworth can score, however. Quarterback Adam Booth leads the league in total offense and has thrown a league-high seven touchdown passes.

In anticipation of the Pioneers' aerial barrage, Lisher has made some defensive changes. He has moved Malcolm from outside linebacker to cornerback and will insert backup quarterback Nick Witmer as an extra defensive back. Soph Brett Lisher will replace Malcolm at outside linebacker.

Passing teams are capable of making big plays, and Lisher has seen way too many big plays by opponents this season.

"I would estimate that 600 yards we've given up have come off eight big plays," the Firebirds' coach said. "Hopefully, we've given up our quota for the year."

Leavenworth can make big plays, but the Pioneers also make bad plays. Lots of them. For instance, they have thrown a glaring 17 interceptions -- 15 by Booth -- including five in a season-opening 43-22 loss to Lawrence High at Haskell Stadium.

"Hopefully, we can get some (interceptions), too," Lisher said.

Dillingham, who also plays free safety, may actually be more important to the Firebirds on defense tonight than at wide receiver where he leads the league in touchdown receptions (four) and average yards per catch (22.7)

"They run so many formations," Lisher said of the Pioneers, "that we have to be sound in our defensive rules and principles. They throw a lot of short passes and they have a lot of speed at receiver."

Free State won two straight after opening with a 36-15 loss to Shawnee Mission Northwest, but then stumbled against Olathe East last week, bowing 40-14.

On offense, the Firebirds are averaging a healthy 292.5 yards per game, but they're averaging only about two touchdowns every outing.

"Our tendency has been to move the ball, but have too many penalties and turnovers," Lisher said. "I don't know how many times we've found ourselves in a first-and-15 situation this season."

Free State will play host to Olathe North next Friday at Memorial Stadium in its last game before the start of Class 6A regional competition.

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