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Archive for Thursday, October 4, 2007

Firebirds seek to snap skid vs. SM West

October 4, 2007

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Free State football renews rivalry with SM West

The Free State High football team will renew it's rivalry with Shawnee Mission West tomorrow night. Enlarge video

— Shawnee Mission West owns the franchise on dousing Free State High football daubers.

Five straight times the Vikings have humbled the Firebirds, including the last three years in the Class 6A state playoffs.

Last year's 31-14 loss to the Vikes was particularly galling because it ended Free State's storybook season. The Firebirds had won 11 straight before SM West burst the bubble.

"I felt horrible after that game," senior quarterback Craig Rosenstengle said.

Added senior lineman Scott Williams: "They were a lot more physical than any team we had played. Their line was bigger than any we faced."

Tonight the Firebirds hope to stop the bleeding. Kickoff will be at 7 p.m. at SM South District Stadium.

SM West and Free State shared the Sunflower League title last season, each with a 6-0 record. If the Vikes (5-0) win tonight, they'll clinch at least a tie again.

In retrospect, SM West has been a bit of a surprise. In the preseason, league coaches downgraded the Vikes slightly, mainly because they lost all-league quarterback Blake Lawrence, now a freshman at Nebraska University. But the Vikings haven't missed a beat.

"Even without him, they're very good," Free State coach Bob Lisher said. "Defensively, they still play very, very good."

SM West, in fact, boasts the league's stingiest defense, surrendering only 8.2 points a game.

"They're real big up front," noted Rosenstengle, who started every game at wide receiver last year. "And their linebackers play downhill and make a lot of tackles."

Despite opening with virtually a brand-new cast this fall, the Firebirds have posted a 3-2 record. Rosenstengle and junior tailback Chucky Hunter have been productive on offense with 17 touchdowns between them.

Hunter has rushed for 518 yards and 10 scores; Rosenstengle 332 yards and seven TDs. Rosenstengle also has thrown for 545 yards and three touchdowns to help the Firebirds average a league-leading 35.4 points per game while surrendering about half that many (18.2).

Free State had plenty of offense in its meeting with the Vikings last fall, too, compiling 353 yards to SM West's 338, but five turnovers proved fatal. The Vikes converted three of those miscues into 17 points.

SM West's primary weapon this fall has been incumbent tailback J.D. Steffen, who rushed for 113 yards and two TDs in the Vikes' 20-14 victory earlier this season over Olathe South, the coaches' overwhelming preseason choice to capture the league title.

"They lost Lawrence, but they still have Steffen," Rosenstengle said. "It seems like they always just reload."

Steffen and SM Northwest's Alex Reed are waging a heated battle for the league individual rushing title. Reed leads with 609 yards, four more than Steffen.

Free State will begin district play next week with its third straight road game, an Oct. 12 meeting with Topeka High at Hummer Park. The Firebirds' next home game will be Oct. 19 against Lawrence High.

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