In the days leading up to the annual rivalry clash between Lawrence High’s and Free State’s football teams, no one was sure about a pretty important detail.
The prevailing question: Who would play quarterback for the Lions?
It turns out the answer is: not Brad Strauss.
The LHS junior, who leads the Sunflower League in total yards (2,261), severely sprained his left ankle last week against Olathe Northwest, and Lawrence coach Dirk Wedd said Thursday afternoon that Strauss has been ruled out for today’s 7 p.m. game at FSHS.
The quarterback’s absence could prove quite troublesome for the Lions, because none of their top three signal-callers will be available. Second-stringer Austin Mater-Kimball is out due to a knee injury, and Drake Hofer, who replaced Strauss in the second quarter against ONW, suffered a concussion late in the fourth quarter of the 21-3 loss and will not play against Free State, either.
Said Wedd: “We’re in a tough situation. We’re down to our fourth or fifth quarterback.”
Who will play QB for the Lions tonight, however, is something Wedd wasn’t willing to reveal.
“There will be somebody out there,” he said with a grin. “We’re gonna play with 11 people.”
Lawrence (5-3) only lists four quarterbacks on its roster. The only one who isn’t currently injured is sophomore Tucker Sutter, listed at 5-foot-10, 165 pounds.
Free State coach Bob Lisher didn’t have a crystal ball to know one way or the other about Strauss’ availability.
He said the Firebirds had prepared to face the first-string quarterback or whomever else Lawrence decided to put on the field.
“It makes it a lot tougher preparation-wise, because you just don’t know,” Lisher said. “You’ve got to prepare for everything.”
Given all the uncertainty surrounding the regular-season finale (the only sure thing seems to be that a Firebirds victory would assure them of a district championship), it is fitting Lisher didn’t know what to expect in the rivalry game.
Even though the two programs rank first (FSHS, 14.6) and second (LHS, 17) in the Sunflower League in points allowed, Lisher said that didn’t necessarily mean the game would be low-scoring.
“I gave up guessing on that a long time ago,” the coach said with a laugh, “because every time I said we were gonna have to win by a touchdown, it’s gonna be low-scoring, it’s always the opposite.”
Plus, Lisher noted, Lawrence and Free State have been two of the most productive offenses in the league (LHS averages 27 points a game, FSHS 23.9).
“It should be a good game,” the Firebirds coach said. “Something’s got to give when you have all those high-ranking offenses and defenses.”
Still, Wedd said the Lions, who haven’t defeated the Firebirds since 2005, won’t be themselves without their top three quarterbacks and senior center Brady Murrish, who re-injured a knee last week.
“We’re gonna be a different animal,” the LHS coach said.
Free State (6-2), meanwhile, will have dual-threat QB Kyle McFarland, running back Shawn Knighton, receiver Ryan Patterson, leading tackler Joe Dineen and its usual cast of characters, who have won six of their last seven games, on the field.
Lisher said the injury situation isn’t ideal.
“I think everybody wants everybody to be healthy going into this game on both sides,” he said, “because you want to play their best players and you want them to play your best players.”
Though playmakers Erick Mayo, Anthony Buffalomeat and Tyrone Jenkins will be suited up and ready to go for Lawrence, Wedd knows he won’t be working with a full arsenal in a game the Lions must win to have their best chance at qualifying for the playoffs.
“We’ll figure out something,” he said.