Here's the thing about the football rivalry between Free State and Lawrence High: The coaches and players can say it's just another game all they want, but the fact remains that this game means more.
The two city schools will get the opportunity to prove just how much more at 7 tonight at Haskell Stadium.
"There is a little more incentive to win this game," Free State coach Bob Lisher admitted. "You want to beat your brother. You don't want anyone else to beat him, but when you play him, you want to beat him."
The family analogy is a great way to describe this intra-city showdown that pits friends against friends, former colleagues against former colleagues.
While many aspects of the rivalry remain constant, this year's game has plenty of elements that make it unique from those that came before it.
For starters, it marks the first time both quarterbacks will take the snaps from center, as LHS junior Clint Pinnick is making his first start in the city showdown while Free State QB Craig Rosenstengle is making his first start as the quarterback.
Rosenstengle started at wide receiver in last year's game and helped the Firebirds trounce LHS, 49-15, with 134 receiving yards, including an 88-yard touchdown catch.
This year, Rosenstengle hopes to be on the other end of that kind of scoring strike but will have to manage without the Firebirds' top receiving threat, junior Preston Randolph.
Randolph, who leads the Firebirds in receptions (8), receiving yards (169) and touchdown catches (2), will miss tonight's showdown because of an ankle injury he suffered during Free State's 34-7 victory over Topeka High last week.
"That's a big loss for us," Lisher said. "Preston was a two-way starter and, in addition to being a threat in the passing game, was playing well on defense, doing an excellent job of supporting the run. We'll have to have some guys step up to replace him."
Senior Marcus Holman will start in Randoph's slot at receiver. After a slow start, Holman has shown plenty of big-play ability in recent weeks and is one of the fastest Firebirds.
Junior Cameron Schmidt is slated to fill Randolph's spot in the secondary, and the FSHS coaches indicated that junior Camren Torneden would be called upon to fill in for Randolph on both sides of the ball, as well.
While Free State figures to feel the loss of Randolph, the Firebirds remain in a better position than the Lions when it comes to injuries. LHS will be without its top two receiving threats tonight, while Pinnick and junior tailback Clifton Sims will be playing in just their second game since returning from injuries.
The influx of injuries has forced the Lions to put several faces in several places throughout the season, but Lisher said he didn't expect that to make the Lions more difficult to prepare for.
"We're familiar with the guys they have, both the guys who have been injured and the guys who have filled in for them," Lisher said. "They've all done a good job, and we're going to have to be ready for all of them."
Both camps have admitted that the city rivalry is emotional. But for the victor, it provides an advantage toward winning a district championship. That's something Lisher and the Firebirds consider to be the top priority.
"As coaches, we've emphasized all week that this is not a rivalry but the second game of district," Lisher said. "We have an opportunity to move to 2-0 in the district and to get a big leg up toward making the playoffs and playing that first playoff game at home.
"The problem with this game is, if you let your emotions run wild, things can get out of control, and it can be tough to get going," Lisher added.
Just another game, or the showdown of the century? Regardless of how it's perceived, tonight's game is huge for both teams.
City showdown probables
TE-Mike Santee, 6-2, 215, Sr. RT-Matt Frantz, 6-3, 230, Jr. RG -Scott Williams, 5-11, 230, Sr. C-Michael Lisher, 6-2, 225, Soph. LG-Doug Bittinger, 6-1, 215, Jr. LT-Graham Saunders, 6-4, 235, Jr. WR-Jason Sneegas, 5-11, 160, Sr.
QB-Craig Rosenstengle, 6-2, 190, Sr. RB-Chucky Hunter, 5-9, 185, Jr. H-Back-Caleb Gress, 5-10, 200, Sr. WR-Marcus Holman, 5-9, 150, Sr.
K-Brian Sims, 5-7, 140, Sr.
LE-Williams. NT-Kevin Coleman, 5-8, 220, Sr. RE-Saunders. OLB-Zack Toelkes, 5-11, 195, Sr. OLB-Mitch Werts, 5-9, 170, Jr. ILB-Santee. ILB-Ryder Werts, 5-10, 220, Sr. ILB-Gress.
CB-Rosenstengle. CB-Sneegas. FS-Cameron Schmidt, 6-1, 170, Jr.
P-Kirk Resseguie, 6-2, 160, Soph.
TE-Quintin Rucker, 6-0, 220, Sr. LT-Chebon Dawes, 6-3, 260, Jr. LG-Skyler Countess, 5-11, 215, Sr. C-Ryan Giblin, 5-10, 215, Jr. RG-Jay Baker, 6-0, 215, Soph. RT-Derek Huff, 5-11, 250, Sr. WR-Aaron Rea, 6-0, 190, Jr.
QB-Clint Pinnick, 5-9, 175, Jr. RB-Tyler Hunt, 6-2, 220, Sr. RB-Clifton Sims, 5-8, 175, Jr. WR-Jake Green, 5-11, 175, Jr.
K-Rex Hargis, 6-0, 150, Sr.
LE-Rucker. LT-Giblin. NG-Countess. RT-Cody Bonham, 5-9, 180, Sr. RE-Rea. LB-Hunt. LB-Rashaad Marshall, 5-9, 175, Jr.
SS-Chase Muder, 5-9, 180, Sr. CB-Murphy Ray, 5-11, 175, Jr. CB-Josh Wedel, 5-8, 170, Sr. FS-Jake Green, 5-11, 175, Jr.
City showdown notebook
LHS nursing slim lead
Lawrence High leads the all-time series, 6-4. Twice the Lions have won two games in a row (1997-1998 and 2002-2003), but the Firebirds have never won two straight.
No Conference credit
Tonight's game won't count in the Sunflower League standings because in odd years the league counts the first six games played against league foes in determining the champion. In even years, it's the last six games, meaning next year's meeting will count toward the championship.
Hunting for titles
Free State's Chucky Hunter and Olathe East's JaVon Williams are running neck-and-neck for the Sunflower League rushing title. After seven games, Williams has 887 yards and Hunter 840.
Another close race is for the team scoring title. O-East has compiled 246 points to Free State's 243. Close behind with 236 points apiece are Olathe South and league champ Shawnee Mission Northwest with 236 apiece.
Lawrence and Free State have had only two common opponents - Olathe South and Olathe North. O-South spilled the Lions, 28-9, and the Firebirds, 34-27. O-North stopped Free State, 29-10, and Lawrence, 41-13.
Weather a factor?
Lawrence received 8.5 inches of rain in the week leading up to tonight's showdown, bringing the potential for sloppy playing conditions into the equation.
Mud bowls are nothing new at Haskell Stadium, but even with more than a day to dry out between the last showers and game time, the field might be in bad shape.
The forecast for kickoff is promising, with temperatures expected to be in the high 50s, with winds blowing from the west between 8 and 11 mph. According to weather.com, there is no chance for rain after 7 p.m.
Parking at tonight's game will not be available at Coffin Complex because of Haskell homecoming activities and weather concerns.