With the Free State High football team set to play one of the biggest games in school history — 7 p.m. today at Blue Valley High — here’s a quick look at how the game breaks down.
When Free State has the ball...
Free State rush offense vs. Blue Valley rush defense: Expect a ton of Chucky Hunter and Camren Torneden. These two have done it all year and there’s no reason to expect the ‘Birds to change things drastically now. Blue Valley’s defense is ripe for the taking, too. In a first-round win against Lawrence High, the Tigers gave up 277 rushing yards on 53 carries. It might not take that many carries for the Firebirds to reach that total. Edge: Free State.
Free State pass offense vs. Blue Valley pass defense: The Tigers have the athletes to cover any kind of passing attack the Firebirds can throw at them. But Torneden’s ability to throw on the run might cause problems. Blue Valley’s pass rush is above average, but this unit has been burned for a big play from time to time. Five teams have thrown for more than 150 yards against the Tigers this season — including Salina Central’s 321 yards — and Blue Valley gives up an average of 12.88 yards-per-reception. Edge: Push.
When Blue Valley has the ball
Blue Valley rush offense vs. Free State rush defense: It’s no secret that the Tigers do not like to run the ball. Despite Treveor Cornley’s better-than-average size and power, BVHS coach Steve Rampy typically only uses him when he’s running out the clock or pounding it in on the goal line (as evidenced by Cornley’s 19 rushing TDs). As long as the game stays close, the Tigers would prefer to air it out, making their running game somewhat irrelevant. Edge: Free State.
Blue Valley pass offense vs. Free State pass defense: Talk about two strengths colliding. While the Firebirds have played their best defense of the season in the past four weeks — surrendering a combined total of 136 passing yards to their past four opponents (all wins) — the Blue Valley passing offense has been a force all season. Quarterback Anthony Abenoja (2,700 yards, 24 TDs) stands tall in the pocket and has great vision down the field, and receivers Luke Rampy, Tyler VanGerpen and P.J. DeBey know how to make the most out of every catch. Blue Valley will move the ball through the air. The key for Free State will be keeping things in front of them and avoiding giving up the big play. Edge: Blue Valley.
Neither team’s kicking game sets the world on fire, but both have fundamentally sound groups on all of their kick coverage units. While Blue Valley has not returned a kick (punt or kickoff) for a touchdown this season, the Firebirds have at least three guys who are a threat to take one back at any time. That alone gives Free State the slight advantage in this category, which likely will have little bearing on the outcome. Edge: Free State.