It’s often said in football circles that beating a team twice in one season isn’t easy.
Free State High will find out just how true that is today with its playoff opener against Olathe North — 7 p.m. kickoff at FSHS.
With a 3-6 record, O-North (2-1 in district play) could be considered a surprising playoff team. But Free State coach Bob Lisher said the Eagles — under the tutelage of six-time Class 6A state champion coach Gene Wier — are a different team than they were back on Sept. 21, when the Firebirds beat them, 34-28.
“Those guys are playing hard, they’re playing well. They’re playing better,” Lisher said.
The Eagles didn’t exactly struggle at FSHS six weeks ago. O-North running back Venus Triplett rushed for 157 yards and four touchdowns, and the game was tied at 28 in the final minute before FSHS senior quarterback Kyle McFarland rushed for the game-winning TD with 40 seconds left.
Lisher and his staff have spent the past few days reminding the Firebirds (8-1) just how difficult it was to win that game. Free State led 20-7 entering the fourth quarter before the Eagles rallied and seriously threatened to beat the home team.
“It was all we could handle then, and we made some mistakes that you can’t afford to make this time (in the playoffs),” Lisher said, “because this is it.”
O-North senior QB Dontez Sanchez struggled in the loss to Free State, completing just three of his eight passes for 24 yards, with an interception. However, Lisher said the 5-foot-5 quarterback (497 passing yards, five touchdowns in 2012) has played better since then, and O-North has shown the ability to throw down the field with play-action calls.
“That’s something we’ll have to be a little more prepared for than last time,” Lisher said.
Of course, Free State has improved overall since that game, which started a six-game Firebirds winning streak. FSHS leads the Sunflower League in total defense (234.9 yards a game).
O-North, on the other hand, is 10th in total defense (368.9). The Eagles will have to contend with the dual-threat ability of McFarland (1,289 passing yards, 15 touchdowns, 619 rushing yards, five touchdowns) and his favorite receiving target, Tye Hughes (534 receiving yards, seven touchdowns), as well as running backs TJ Cobbs, Demarko Bobo and Joe Dineen.
Lisher said Free State enters the opening round playing its best football of the season.
“We need to continue to do that,” he said. “We can’t rest on our laurels. If we’re not getting better, somebody else is, and eventually that’s gonna catch up to us.”