Free State's Ryan Murphy and Shawnee Mission West's Blake Lawrence visited a spring football game at Kansas University two years ago. They talked about playing in the Class 6A state championship game one day.
In what passed as kidding around two years ago suddenly seems like the dream matchup in northeast Kansas for 2006. Free State and Shawnee Mission West sit atop the Sunflower League with identical 8-0 records, but they can only meet in the playoffs this season. Free State will travel to Topeka to face Washburn Rural (1-7) in its final regular-season game at 7 tonight.
SM West will face Blue Valley Northwest (3-5).
Not only did Murphy and Lawrence talk about playing in the state championship game, but they also had rather bold predictions.
"We said that during our senior year, we're going to see each other in the semifinals, to go to the state championship game," Murphy said. "We were just joking around. But it might come true."
Murphy, who committed to Kansas University, and Lawrence, who committed to Nebraska, have a lot of work ahead of them before the powerhouse matchup takes place. No one knows that more than Free State coach Bob Lisher.
"I know people want to see it, but I haven't even thought about it," Lisher said of the FSHS-SM West matchup. "I really can't give you an answer. I'm just trying to get by Washburn Rural, and then we'll worry about that later on. I know a lot of people want to see it, but I just hope we're fortunate enough to get that far."
FSHS probable starters
OFFENSE TE-Christian Ballard, 6-4, 280, Sr. LT-Richard Flaig, 6-3, 240, Sr. LG-Jimmy Bruce, 6-1, 220, Sr. C-Kyle Weinmaster, 6-1, 230, Sr. RG-Mikel Ruder, 6-4, 255, Sr. RT-Scott Williams, 5-10, 250, Jr. SE-Craig Rosenstengle, 6-2, 175, Jr. QB-Ryan Murphy, 5-10, 175, Sr. TB-Brian Murphy, 5-8, 170, Sr. H-Back-Chucky Hunter, 5-7, 185, Soph. WR-Clark Boatright, 5-11, 150, Sr. PK-Jason Sneegas, 6-0, 145, Jr.
DEFENSE LE-Weinmaster. NG-Ruder. RE-Ballard. ILB-Andy Petz, 6-2, 225, Sr. ILB-Bruce. ILB-Ryder Werts, 5-10, 215, Jr. OLB-Mike Santee, 6-1, 210, Jr. OLB-Bobby Burnham, 5-9, 185, Sr. CB-Boatright. CB-Brian Murphy. FS-Ryan Murphy. P-Caleb Stephens, 5-10, 250, Sr.
Washburn Rural doesn't boast the most impressive of resumes. The Blues give up more than 30 points per game, and the Firebirds average 45 points per game. Washburn Rural's lone victory this season came in Week 5 against Topeka Highland Park (2-6).
Murphy, a senior quarterback, said he hoped tonight's game would give the Firebirds momentum heading into the playoffs.
Before the playoffs start, the Firebirds will look to improve upon recent turnovers on offense. Free State had three turnovers last week against Lawrence High. The Firebirds have been inconsistent with turnovers. They had six against Olathe South and none against Topeka High.
"Turnovers are always a concern," Lisher said. "For the most part, if you take away two football games, we've taken care of the football pretty well. Sometimes you lose focus, and those things happen or you get a little too much energy and the ball has the tendency to sail a little bit. Keeping your emotions in check so those things don't happen is a big part of it."
Free State defeated Washburn Rural last season, 32-15.