Can Free State High’s football team pass the grass test?
After eight straight games on artificial turf — including the last four at home — the Firebirds will return to real roots tonight.
Free State will tangle with Olathe Northwest in its regular-season finale at College Boulevard Activity Center, a grass-covered facility.
“I think after the first series or two we’ll get used to it again,” Free State coach Bob Lisher said of the transition. “Heck, these kids have played on grass all their lives.”
Kickoff will be at 7 p.m. for the Firebirds’ first game on grass since the season opener against Olathe East, also at CBAC.
O-East won that game, 29-20 — one of only two Free State defeats — so the Firebirds still have to prove they’re not strictly a turf team.
“Grass is a little different. It feels different,” senior offensive tackle A.J. Simons said, “but you zone it out.”
It’s no secret Free State’s offense and defense are built on speed, or that artificial turf provides a faster track, particularly when compared to the CBAC carpet.
“It was ridiculously long,” Firebirds’ senior receiver Connor Stremel said of their first visit, “and it makes you feel slower.”
Lisher conceded the CBAC grass was “very thick and high,” back then, but added: “I’m sure it’s been worn down some.”
Thursday’s rain also means the grass will be wet, another potential slow-down factor for the Firebirds’ 1-2 punch of quarterback Camren Torneden and tailback Kirk Resseguie.
Torneden, the reigning All-Sunflower League quarterback, has rushed for 713 yards and 15 touchdowns and passed for 664 yards and five TDs.
The small but shifty 5-foot-7, 165-pounder ran for three TDs and passed for another in last week’s 42-14 victory over Lawrence High. Meanwhile, the 6-2, 190-pound Resseguie has rambled for 853 yards and 15 TDs.
Both Free State and O-Northwest have qualified for the 6A playoffs, with tonight’s winner virtually guaranteed a home game in next Friday’s first-round.
“If we lose, we’re on the road,” Lisher said, “and we would much rather play at home.”
Echoed Stremel: “We really want to play here. We don’t want Lawrence High to be our last home game.”
Although sitting on a 4-4 record, the Ravens have run roughshod over district foes Lawrence and Leavenworth the last two weeks. After thumping the Lions, 49-6, O-Northwest plastered the Pioneers, 63-0, last Friday.
“Sixty-three … that’s quite a number to put up in football,” Simons said. “It looks more like a basketball score. But that shows how good their offense is.”