Free State High football coach Bob Lisher and the Firebirds know all about Olathe North.
They know the Eagles (6-1) — the defending Sunflower League champions — love to run the football and do it well.
But they also know what they need to do to beat them.
“We have to go out and execute, and do things correctly in everything we do on offense, defense and special teams,” Lisher said. “There’s not a lot of room for error when you play a team like Olathe North. You have to do things right play after play, because that one play we don’t, they get you.”
The Firebirds (4-3) are firmly intent on knocking off the Eagles at 7 p.m. tonight at the Olathe District Activity Center and putting themselves at 2-0 in their district.
“Coming into district play and knowing that we have to win makes us work extra hard at practice,” senior receiver/linebacker Tim Lewis said. “It’s down to crunch time now, and we need to get another victory, hopefully go 3-0 so we can host.”
Lewis added he didn’t think there was anyone in the Firebird locker room that didn’t believe they could come away with the win.
The Firebirds come into the game ranked as the third-stingiest defense against the run, allowing an average of just more than 137 yards per contest. The Firebirds will be tasked with controlling the Eagles top-rated rushing offense.
North features two explosive backs: Adonis Saunders and Victor Simmons, who combined for 334 yards on 25 carries and four touchdowns in last week’s rout of Lawrence High.
Saunders and Simmons are both in the top 10 in the league in rushing, and Saunders is tied for a league-high 13 rushing touchdowns.
“If we don’t (play Eagles physical), and allow them to lock up on you, you take a break, they’re going to find a gap and hit it,” Lisher said.
As is always the case, Free State’s duo of runners, senior quarterback Dylan Perry and senior running back Preston Schenck, will need some solid blocking of their own to get into space.
Senior nose tackle/offensive guard Justin McCandless said he and fellow linemen, like seniors Cale Nieder and Zach Saunders, are up to the challenge of imposing their will against the second-ranked defensive unit against the run (122.85 rushing YPG allowed).
“I like blocking bigger guys,” the 6-foot-3 McCandless said.
The Firebirds are, yet again, prepared for a smash-mouth affair, and Lewis envisioned starting the game with a flourish.
“No yards,” Lewis said of his ideal first defensive possession. “Shut them out, get them out. Make them punt, get the ball and score. That’s what we need to do.”