Somewhere in the gap between the elite and the bottom-feeders in Sunflower League football sits Free State High.
With a 3-2 record, the Firebirds are current middle-of-the-packers, not yet sure where they fit into the overall picture, but likely to learn late tonight. Free State will tangle with a potent Olathe North team that has only one loss, and that by a mere point to unbeaten Olathe East.
"It's a game where we can prove ourselves," Firebirds' senior tackle Grahm Saunders said.
Kickoff will be at 7 p.m. at Olathe District Activities Center.
The Firebirds have much to prove. Their three wins have come against teams with a combined record of 4-11; their two defeats to teams with a combined 9-1 mark.
"I've said all along we can be in the upper echelon of the league," Free State coach Bob Lisher said, "and I think we're making strides."
A week ago tonight, many Free State players were at Haskell Stadium watching Olathe North cruise to a 41-7 victory over Lawrence High.
"I saw a pretty impressive team," Saunders said. "They're pretty fast, and it seems like they have it all together."
Echoed lineman Josh Hill: "They're explosive on offense, and defensively they fill gaps well."
In running back James Franklin and wide receiver-return specialist Bryan Shephard, the Eagles boast two of the league's most dangerous weapons. At the same time, O-North's defense, featuring end Kevin Young, who has committed to Kansas University, has been nearly impenetrable.
"They're second in the league in total offense and first in total defense," Lisher pointed out. "They're pretty solid with a lot of athletes. I don't think overall we've played anyone with that much speed."
Free State nearly can match the Eagles in weapons with quarterback Camren Torneden and tailback Chucky Hunter, but the Firebirds' defense still has to prove it can contain quality offenses.
"If we can tackle, we'll be successful," Lisher said. "I think we have people in the right places now. This is our sixth game so inexperience is no longer an issue."
The Firebirds do have one issue, however, and it's glaring. They've failed in their last 10 conversion attempts. During that frustrating drought, Free State has misfired on seven kicks and three two-point attempts. Overall, the Firebirds have converted only six times after 20 touchdowns.
"Hopefully, we'll get one this week," Lisher said.
Then again, the Firebirds will have to score first. Lawrence High's lone touchdown against the Eagles last week came late in the fourth quarter.
Free State has another Thursday road trip next week. The Firebirds will be playing at Leavenworth in a game that will be televised live by Metro Sports (Sunflower Broadband channel 37).