Free State High's football players knew youth and inexperience could cause early season bumps and bruises.
After two games of being pushed around, however, the Firebirds have had enough. They have made mistakes, taken their licks and learned their lesson.
Free State is 0-2 heading into tonight's game against winless Shawnee Mission Northwest, and senior Jamie Resseguie said it was time to start shoving back.
"We're not a young team anymore as far as I look at it," Resseguie said. "We've been through two games now together. We've been beat two times. So I don't look at us as inexperienced anymore because we're experienced."
Kickoff will be at 7 p.m. at Memorial Stadium.
The Firebirds frequently were out of synch during their first two games. Costly penalties and turnovers buried them early in a season-opening loss at Shawnee Mission North, then last week against Olathe East they allowed a 14-10 lead in the fourth quarter to evaporate into a 37-14 defeat.
The offense hasn't been spectacular, putting up only about 250 yards per game, but the biggest problem has been defense. The Firebirds rank last in the Sunflower League, allowing 372 yards per game.
Those numbers make Free State coach Bob Lisher cringe, but he believes the Firebirds can wipe the slate clean and move past the early losses by playing tougher, smarter football and maintaining their focus for 48 minutes.
"We need to set a tone from here on out," Lisher said. "Our kids understand the fact that the football season is a long journey and every step you have to make improvements. We didn't make the type of improvements that we needed to make the last two weeks."
Free State will need to be efficient against SM Northwest.
The Cougars were walloped last week by Shawnee Mission South and have the lowest scoring offense in the league, but Northwest senior quarterback Mike Garrison boasts the potential to give the Firebirds fits.
Garrison is a playmaker who likes to roll out and scramble behind his beefy, well-disciplined offensive line. He's the kind of player who has given Free State trouble in the past.
"Big plays are what's killing us," senior quarterback Nick Witmer said. "Last game we kind of showed we could stop the run well until the end, but if we step up and stop the big plays I think our defense is going to be just fine."