• Fans from both Free State and Olathe North probably will have to sit on the west side. Free State officials were hoping construction on the east side would be completed by tonight, but Thursday’s rain made that possibility unlikely.
• Free State junior linebacker Henry Vaeono, a starter, is listed as doubtful due to a head injury. If Vaeono can’t go, he’ll be replaced by Nate Davis, also a junior.
• Free State quarterback Camren Torneden already has crossed the 1,000-yard total offense plateau. The reigning All-Sunflower League quarterback has thrown for 533 yards and rushed for 502.
• Missouri University coach Gary Pinkel was expected to be on hand to watch Lucas Vincent, O-North’s 6-foot-3, 270-pound lineman. Vincent gave an oral commitment to MU last April.
This isn’t the Super Bowl. It’s just another regular-season high school football game.
Nevertheless, when unbeaten Olathe North and once-beaten Free State tangle tonight, a playoff atmosphere will pervade the Firebirds’ new football complex.
“It’ll be a dogfight,” Free State lineman Matt Ruder said.
Kickoff will be at 7 p.m. Sunflower Broadband Channel 6 will carry a delayed telecast at 10:30 p.m.
In truth, there may be a dogfight in the press box, too, with the local cable outlet and two or three radio stations scrambling for space along with three or four newspaper reporters.
What’s the big deal? It’s the teams. Olathe North is the odds-on favorite to represent the eastern part of the state in the Class 6A championship game, a role Free State played last year.
In fact, the Firebirds’ 10-6 victory over Olathe North in last year’s playoffs was a major stepping stone in Free State’s surprising postseason. At the same time, however, that win allows the Eagles to use revenge as a motivational tool tonight.
“Whatever they want to use,” said Ruder, a 6-3, 215-pound senior. “We’ll still be working hard.”
Free State has a bit of motivation, too.
“We want to protect our house,” senior running back Kirk Resseguie said. “We don’t want to let anybody come in and win, regardless of who it is.”
Added Ruder: “They want to be the first team to beat us here, and we never want a loss, home or away.”
This will be the Firebirds’ third game in their new digs, and the first two were blowouts — a 56-14 romp over Shawnee Mission North three weeks ago and a 49-0 blasting of SM Northwest last Friday.
Free State’s lone defeat occurred in the opener when it traveled to Olathe and turned the ball over five times in a 29-20 loss to O-East. Since then, the Firebirds have won four straight.
Meanwhile, among O-North’s five wins is a 28-14 victory over O-East. Otherwise the Eagles have demolished Leavenworth (71-6), SM Northwest (41-12), O-Northwest (40-13) and SM North (42-0).
Notably, O-North buried the Firebirds, 35-7, in a regular-season game at this time a year ago before bowing in the second round of the playoffs. Not that those 2008 results mean much.
“Last year was last year,” Free State coach Bob Lisher said. “We don’t have the same team … although they have mostly the same team they had last year.”
That includes running back James Franklin, the featured back in O-North’s traditional pound-it-out running attack.
“When we played them last year, it was a smash-mouth game,” said Resseguie, “and I have a feeling it will be the same this time.”
Resseguie rushed for a career-high 201 yards and three touchdowns last week against SM Northwest. On the same night, coincidentally, Franklin ran for 200 yards and three TDs against SM North.
Regardless of tonight’s outcome, it’s probable that — just like last year — the two teams will meet again in November.