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Archive for Saturday, November 22, 2008

Dream drive

Late TD march leads Firebirds to state title game

The Firebirds swamp head coach Bob Lisher as he raises the sub-state championship plaque on Friday.

The Firebirds swamp head coach Bob Lisher as he raises the sub-state championship plaque on Friday.

November 22, 2008

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Free State advances to state championship

Two years ago, the Free State High football team squandered the chance at a state championship. But Friday, the team defeated Blue Valley and will advance to the championship game. Enlarge video

High School Spodcasters

Spodcasters Postgame: Free State advances to State championship

The guys (Matt Tait, Jesse Newell) put the finishing touches on Free State football's 14-7 victory over Blue Valley in the State semifinals. So what is the significance of the victory for the school and this team? The guys discuss that, along with the key plays and players that helped the Firebirds to their first football championship game in school history.

Stilwell — It wasn’t quite deja vu, but it was darn close.

For the second time in two weeks, the Free State High football team saved its best for last, unleashing a 17-play, 80-yard drive that took 8:22 off the clock and gave the Firebirds’ a 14-7 victory over Blue Valley in a Class 6A state semifinal contest that propelled Free State into the state title game for the first time in school history.

“We’ve been trying to knock the door down for 12 years,” Firebirds coach Bob Lisher said. “It’s gotten a little thinner each and every year, and we finally got through it this year with a hard-fought football game against an outstanding football team.”

The final drive was the culmination of a classic clash that featured both teams making mistakes and both teams making big plays. In the end, it came down to the team that executed when it mattered most. There’s no doubt that team was Free State.

After holding Blue Valley on a fourth-down play deep in Free State territory, the Firebirds took over with 9:04 to play. On first down, Chucky Hunter was hit hard in the backfield and lost five yards. From that point on, Free State found its mojo, motoring down the field one back-breaking play at a time. Confidence was key on the final drive, as every player in the Free State huddle focused on last week’s 90-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter against Olathe North that put the Firebirds in this position. FSHS coach Bob Lisher made sure of that.

“I just told them, ‘You’ve done this last week. You know how to finish a game, now let’s go finish the game,’” Lisher said. “We didn’t do anything different, we just ran the plays we knew could work. We knew that if we could just eat that clock up and put it in the end zone, we’d have an opportunity to win it.”

All week the talk surrounding the semifinal showdown focused on whether Free State would be able to stop the high-powered Blue Valley passing attack. The Firebirds answered that question time after time, holding Blue Valley quarterback Anthony Abenoja to 77 yards. He completed six of 22 passes.

“They ran a little bit more than we expected, but we were prepared for that, too, having seen Olathe North last week,” said senior Taylor Stuart, who sacked Abenoja on the opening play of the Tigers’ final drive to put a serious damper on their hopes of a comeback. “I don’t even know what to say, we let a few big plays happen, but for the most part we stepped up when we needed to and did what it took to win.”

Lisher credited his coaching staff and the never-say-die attitude of his players for that.

“Coach (Brett) Oberzan and our defensive staff did an great job of coming up with some blitz schemes and some coverage schemes,” Lisher said. “We tried to look the same and play different stuff, and I think we did a pretty good job. Our defense played great. To hold that offense to seven points, I didn’t think that was possible.”

On the stat sheet, the Firebirds dominated the game from start to finish, outgaining Blue Valley 303-164 in total yards and coming up with big play after big play when the game was on the line. Little things such as field position, penalties and momentum kept the game close. But each time the Firebirds were put to the test, they passed with perfect marks.

“When you get into these types of games, you have to have playmakers who make plays,” Lisher said. “And it seemed like all night long, when we had to make a play, somebody stepped up and made one.”

The list was long.

Junior Keene Niemack had two game-changing interceptions, one deep in Free State territory, the other in the end zone in the third quarter.

Junior quarterback Camren Torneden, who carried the ball 18 times for 123 yards, converted an astonishing eight runs for first downs, including a fourth-and-inches sneak on the Blue Valley 18-yard line with 2:46 to play.

“We had to do it, we needed to do it,” Torneden said. “I just looked deep into everybody’s eyes in the huddle and I knew we could do it. I knew we were all together. It was just an amazing drive.”

And then there was Chucky Hunter. The undisputed front man of the Free State High team, carried the ball 38 times for 170 yards. Fittingly, Hunter scored both Free State touchdowns, one on a two-yard run that capped an 80-yard drive to open the game and the other on a one-yard plunge that capped an 80-yard drive to close the game.

“I wasn’t tired. It’s cold, but I just wanted them to keep feeding me,” Hunter said. “You can’t get tired on a night like this because of the significance of the game.”

Hunter never did. Even though his 27th carry came with four minutes to play in the third quarter, Hunter found a way to pump out eight more quality carries. When his 38th carry sent him flying over his offensive line and into the end zone from a yard out on Free State’s final drive of the night, Hunter popped up immediately and sprinted off the field with one finger in the air.

With the victory, Free State improves to 9-3 on the season and moves one step closer to the first state football championship in school history. Playoff victories over Shawnee Mission Northwest (41-21), Olathe North (10-6) and Blue Valley (14-7) have the Firebirds battle tested.

“We have definitely earned our way into the state championship,” Lisher said. “There was no easy game in those three.”

Now the focus shifts to finishing the job. The Free State Firebirds will play Junction City (12-0) — a 22-3 winner against Derby on Friday — for the Class 6A state championship at 3 p.m. next Saturday at Washburn University’s Yager Stadium in Topeka.

“Just hearing that, I get a big smile on my face,” Stuart said.

Directions to Yager Stadium in Topeka, site of the Class 6A football state championship game.

Comments

allgoodtoldya 5 years, 4 months ago

Does anyone know when the All Sunflower and All State football teams are anounced?

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jlneher 5 years, 4 months ago

I just wanted to send my congratulations out to my father, Assistant Coach Chuck Mosley, at Freestate. This is his last year with the team and what a way for him to go out. I could not hope for a better Christmas present than for his team to take State. Go Firebirds!!!

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wildcat86 5 years, 5 months ago

It's about time that a Lawrence school gets the chance to take the 6A championship title in football!! Hutchinson has had it way too many times in a row! Good luck Free State....you deserve it!

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Edward Coan 5 years, 5 months ago

Ditto here drillsgt. Maybe I'll be a Firebird fan until Wedd makes some changes or leaves...

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Pywacket 5 years, 5 months ago

Great job and good luck in the finals, Firebirds!I will never forget when so many Free State kids travelled to see the LHS band compete at Neewollah two years ago (LHS took first!!), and to lend their home-town support. The Firebird band didn't enter that competition. My son was a senior in the LHS band that year and it meant a lot to him & his bandmates that the Free State kids would drive all that way to support their friends from the "cross-town" school.I hope all LHS supporters will recall that kind of good will and be equally supportive of FS whenever they make it to a finals or the top of a competition, whether it's band, football, basketball, or what have you. When you're competing against each other, you naturally support your own team, but when they're out of the running, it's a gesture of good will to extend your loyalties to the other Lawrence school. It makes for good neighbors & good friends.

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lawrenceishome 5 years, 5 months ago

buddy2me, I could have named those as well, and many others, I guess I just wanted to keep it short and sweet. And when there's an article on LHS or Free State cross country, soccer, football, or any other teams I will congratulate them accordingly. So bring on any and all article relating to Lawrence high school achievements.

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buddy2me 5 years, 5 months ago

KUfan57, in my post I never said to take away from Free State, I was just saying that in lawrenceishome's post he/she stated "that this past year with KU championship and the orange bowl, let's bring home a title for the River City" and his/her post never mentions the fact that a lot of other State titles have come to Lawrence this year, let's not forget those! fan you read between the lines, no where did I say that, people need to read the post not put words in there that are not there.

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Kufan57 5 years, 5 months ago

buddy2me...Just because Free State won the right to go to state does not take away what has been accomplished by kids from LHS in the past year...Congrats to Coach Lish and the Firebirds!! Go State!!

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buddy2me 5 years, 5 months ago

I hate to tell you lawrenceis home, but LHS basketball teams did very well this year also. The girls DID bring home a state championship in basketball to the River City as well as the Cross Country Boys team. Why does everyone forget about those? Believe it or not, there are other sports besides football and college basketball in Lawrence, KS. Let's not forget about that, it's not like it was that long ago.

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lawrenceishome 5 years, 5 months ago

What a great accomplishment for these high school kids! Bring a state title to the River City.Nothing brings a town together like a high school state championship in football, and an orange bowl victory, and a national championship in college basketball. Lawrence rules.

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Silly_me 5 years, 5 months ago

What a fantastic game and season for those kids and their coaches. They started off the season slow, but pulled it together and now are playing some fantastic football, especially on the defensive side of the ball. I hope the seniors at Free State treasure this run to the state championship. It will be a great mmory for them.

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drillsgt 5 years, 5 months ago

not bad , a littleluck, but desire to win in the last quarter was the difference. just wondering when Wedd will get the picture that a new offense and defense could be a good thing. im a LHS alum, but im pulling for STATE because it is lawrence kids playing for our town, so good luck Free State.........

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kujayhawk 5 years, 5 months ago

Congrats to coach Lisher. Great man, great coach.

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rtwngr 5 years, 5 months ago

The caption in the picture at the top has the coach as "Bill" Lisher. Nice job editorial staff.

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