There is one reason Free State High offensive lineman Mikel Ruder is confident the Firebird backs won't lose the football as much this week.
He just doesn't quite know the name of it.
"That big rubber thing over there - it's making sure they don't fumble," Ruder said, nodding toward an apparatus on the side of the Free State practice field. "I think they're ready this time."
After putting the ball on the ground seven times and also tossing two interceptions in a 28-21 victory over Shawnee Mission Northwest last week, Free State will look to limit mistakes in a showdown at 7 tonight against Shawnee Mission West at Haskell Stadium.
To walk away with a victory, the Firebirds know they'll have to play mistake-free.
West (3-0) enters not only unbeaten, but also unchallenged and, most impressively, not yet scored upon.
In the first three weeks, the Vikings have blasted their first three opponents - Shawnee Mission South, Leavenworth and Olathe North - by a combined score of 100-0.
"We've got our hands full," Free State coach Bob Lisher said, "but if we execute and don't hurt ourselves, I think we've got a shot."
That's because - in stretches - Lisher has seen his offense be nearly unstoppable.
Free State marched inside No. 3-ranked Olathe East's 10-yard-line in its first three possessions two weeks ago. Last week, the Firebirds racked up over 400 yards against Northwest.
Still, mistakes have come back to haunt Free State, all too often turning long drives into missed opportunities.
Yikes! Vikes tough
The Shawnee Mission West Vikings have done more than win their first three games - they have dominated them. Here are the results of West's first three contests of 2005.
Sept. 1 @ SM South: 42-0 Sept. 8 vs. Leavenworth: 44-0 Sept. 17 vs. Olathe North: 14-0 Totals: 100-0
"Our biggest concern is taking care of our business and focusing every snap," Lisher said. "Sometimes we get a little lackadaisical - we take a play off - and we get hurt."
The Free State defense also will need to avoid major mistakes against an explosive West offense.
Running back Tristan Pascal leads a ground attack that leads the Sunflower League with 361 yards per game.
The Vikings also have quarterback Tyler Lawrence, who already has committed to play football for Kansas University next fall.
With four wide receivers returning from last year's team, West has the option to go to the air if needed.
The scores speak for themselves when describing the Viking defense. In fact, Shawnee Mission West is the only school in class 6A that is both unbeaten and not scored on.
"I'm sure they're going to come after us pretty heavy with some blitzes," Lisher said. "We have to be prepared for it, and we have to match their intensity because they're one intense football team."
The Firebirds feel this is another opportunity to prove they belong with the elite teams in the state.
West enters as the No. 1-ranked team in the Prep Power Index rankings and No. 5 in the Kansas Prep Football poll.
"It's a huge game like the Olathe East game," Ruder said. "If we would have won that, they would have put us on the map for the Sunflower League. If we do this, I think it would do the same thing for us."