Even at 5-2, Free State coach Bob Lisher knows his team won’t come in as the favorite in today’s 7 p.m. matchup against Olathe North at Free State Stadium.
“We have to play our best football game,” Lisher said, “and we have to make sure we try to take the ball away from them a few times.”
Olathe North, which has made it to the Class 6A state championship game the last two seasons, began the season 5-0 before two straight losses.
That included a district-opening 28-19 loss to Lawrence High on Friday, when the Eagles turned it over four times.
North comes in with three of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the Sunflower League.
Receiver Tanner Gentry enters as the league’s second-leading receiver with 664 yards and 12 touchdowns. He caught nine passes for 159 yards and three touchdowns against LHS.
The Eagles also boast the conference’s second- and third-leading rushers: seniors Orange Moody and Treshawn Root.
“They can do some misdirection stuff that can be confusing if you lose some discipline and don’t follow your keys,” Lisher said. “Obviously, if you let the speed get going, you’re in trouble.”
North faces a Free State defense that has been thriving.
The Firebirds have allowed just 35 points in their last four games, while their 103 points allowed is best in the Sunflower League.
“No one tries to do too much,” Free State sophomore safety Joe Dineen said. “We all play as a team and not individuals.”
Lisher believes much of his team’s success defensively has come from being disciplined, as each week he has noticed that fewer players have been caught trying to defend the same gap.
In the passing game, the Firebirds have been able to mix up zone and man coverages while also getting steady pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Dineen also said that players stayed after every practice to study film, which helped them to know what types of route combinations to expect with certain formations.
“We’ve prepared well for each game,” Dineen said. “We don’t go out lost on what they’re going to run. We know what they do.”
Free State — which won its district opener Oct. 13 against Olathe Northwest, 20-14 — can clinch a playoff spot with a victory combined with a Lawrence High win over Olathe Northwest today.