Free State High football hasn’t faced Olathe East in two years, but Firebirds coach Bob Lisher knows exactly what his team is getting into tonight against the Hawks, who visit FSHS for the Class 6A state quarterfinals.
Kickoff is 7.
The Sunflower League schedule kept the two programs from playing each other this season and last. But Lisher, whose Firebirds lost to O-East in the regular season and playoffs in 2010, said the Hawks (6-4) pride themselves on being one of the most physical teams in the league every season.
It’s a simple philosophy: O-East runs the ball (238 yards a game, 25 rushing touchdowns this season) and stops opponents (104 rushing yards a game) from doing the same.
“That’s what they do,” Lisher said.
Reid Buckingham, Free State’s junior starting center, said the biggest difference in the Hawks’ defensive line is their even front, a scheme FSHS hasn’t faced since the season opener.
“They have some big bodies up there,” Buckingham said. “They try to own the line of scrimmage, but that’s our mind-set, too.”
FSHS senior defensive end and offensive right tackle Cody Stanclift said, defensively, the Firebirds (9-1) are prepared for the formations and run plays O-East might call.
“If we’re able to read those during the game, we should be able to shut them down,” he said.
Senior O-East running back Hayden Frazier has accumulated 1,450 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns this season.
Stanclift said the Firebirds know Hawks quarterback John Blazevic (one pass attempt in a 17-7 first-round victory over Shawnee Mission East) won’t be a big part of the O-East game plan.
“They’re not gonna pass it. They’re gonna try to shove it down our throats,” Stanclift said. “It’s our responsibility as linemen and linebackers to stop the run and make them pass it. Then we’ll get some interceptions from our defensive backs.”
If O-East is forced to go to the air, Free State’s secondary — senior corners Kyle McFarland and Demarko Bobo and junior safety Joe Dineen — has combined for 10 interceptions.
Most of the game, when the Hawks are running the ball, they’ll have to deal with linebackers Corban Schmidt (98 tackles), Keith Loneker (81 tackles), Stan Skwarlo, Blake Winslow (7.5 sacks) and Tye Hughes, as well as linemen Stanclift, Riley Buller and run-stuffing expert Fred Wyatt.
Even though O-East might seem like a predictable opponent, Lisher expects the Hawks — winners of five straight after a 1-4 start — to have some new tricks tonight.
“People do a lot of different things than what they do on film when they play us,” he said. “We often times have to adjust quite a bit.”
How O-East handles senior FSHS quarterback McFarland (2,130 total yards, 18 passing touchdowns, six rushing touchdowns) and the running-back trio of TJ Cobbs, Dineen and Bobo (1,289 yards, 25 touchdowns) will go a long way in deciding which team advances to the state semifinals.
Free State last defeated the Hawks, 38-7, in the 2009 playoffs.