For the fourth year in a row, the Free State High and Washburn Rural football teams will square off in the final game of the season with a trip to state on the line.
The game, at 7 tonight at Haskell Stadium, is the final district game for both teams. The Firebirds and Junior Blues sit tied at 1-1, behind Lawrence High at 2-0. The winner will advance to the Class 6A state playoffs next week.
Free State, which has ended Washburn's season three years in a row, hopes to have the same outcome tonight.
"Our guys understand how important this game is," Free State coach Bob Lisher said. "I get sentimental around this time of year. I didn't want Thursday to be our last day of practice and our guys don't want to be checking in their equipment Monday instead of preparing for our next opponent."
Last season, the Firebirds trailed 10-0, but clawed back to defeat the Junior Blues, 14-10. With that win, Free State won the district and a trip to state.
Although the Firebirds don't stand to win the district after losing to LHS last week, Lisher said a fourth straight trip to state would be enough.
"A lot of our guys played in that game last year," Lisher said. "They know the feeling and they want to get it back."
W. Rural at Free State
When: 7 tonight Where: Haskell Stadium Records: Wash-burn Rural 4-4 (1-1 district), Free State 3-5 (1-1 district)
Standing in their way, however, is a senior-led Washburn team that returns nine starters on both offense and defense. Lisher said the fact that Washburn was experienced and had played under pressure before might be an advantage for the Junior Blues.
"They are a senior-dominated team who has been there, and they know what it takes to win," Lisher said. "This is a good football team. They played LHS pretty tough, and we are going to have to play really good football."
Free State is coming off a heartbreaking 33-28 loss against LHS. The Firebirds rallied from a 33-13 deficit with just five minutes to go in the game last week, scoring twice in 31â2 minutes, but could not outshine their intracity rival, who wrapped up the district with that win.
Lisher said his team struggled to get past the loss at the beginning of the week, but rebounded the past couple of days.
"Monday and Tuesday we weren't that great in practice, but we had a good one Thursday," Lisher said. "It was hard for us to get up after that loss because we put a lot into winning that game. It would have set us up for a chance to win the district."
Washburn Rural will have some momentum coming into tonight's game after thumping Topeka High last week, 37-6.