Free State High football coach Bob Lisher doesn't really want to remember the fourth week of the season.
But if his team had not suffered a lopsided 35-14 loss to Shawnee Mission West on Sept. 24 or the four other setbacks that sandwiched that one to start the season, then maybe the Firebirds would not be playing tonight in the Class 6A football state playoffs.
"Shawnee Mission West was a difficult game for us to accept," said Lisher, whose team will get a repeat challenge from the Vikings at 7 tonight at Haskell Stadium.
"We didn't play well. Well, we played well defensively, except for a few plays. But we continuously shot ourselves in the foot," Lisher said of his 3-6 squad's first showdown against SM West (7-2).
"The purpose of this week is we play better, prepare to not shoot ourselves in the foot and give ourselves a chance to win."
Having at least a shot should be no problem for the Firebirds, who have won three out of their last four. Free State's lone loss in the last month was a 36-28 heartbreaking loss in triple overtime to Topeka High.
SM West has been even hotter, though.
The Vikings' victory over Free State sparked a four-game win streak, and SM West has suffered only one setback since then -- a 34-7 loss two weeks ago to Blue Valley Northwest, which plays host to Lawrence High tonight.
The Vikings are scoring only slightly more points a game than Free State with an average of 17.44 compared to the Firebirds' 17.22. But SM West's defense is third in the Sunflower League yielding an average of 15.78 points per game, while Free State has allowed the third-worst total at 25.44 ppg.
Viking senior running back D.J. Barnett leads the league in rushing yards with 1,388 yards. Free State limited Barnett to 94 yards on 22 carries in the first meeting, but it was the Firebirds' own mistakes which cost them.
"We've made a lot of improvement since then," said Firebird senior Corey Cooper. "We made a lot of mistakes in that game, and this time we're going to have them corrected."
If the Firebirds can do that, then tonight's first-round state playoff game could be as exciting as the last two games Free State has played at Haskell -- the Firebirds' heartbreaking loss to Topeka High and a slim victory over the Lions two weeks ago.
|When: 7 tonight.Where: Haskell Stadium.Television (tape delayed): 10:30 tonight Sunflower Broadband Channel 6.Records: Free State High 3-6, Shawnee Mission West 7-2.|
"The guys are starting to understand that when they play the way they're supposed to, which is sound fundamental football, then good things happen," Lisher said. "We're definitely a better team now than we were back then."