Like any week, Free State High’s football players have gotten earfuls from their coaches the past few days about game plan and execution. The Firebirds might also have heard just as much about how desperate their opponent will be to win.
FSHS coach Bob Lisher made it clear to his players that tonight’s District 1 game at Leavenworth (kickoff at 7 p.m.) will be a “big-time” fight, because the Pioneers (3-4 overall, 0-1 district) need to knock off the Firebirds to have a reasonable chance of making the playoffs.
Free State junior linebacker Keith Loneker said he and his teammates are expecting a much more challenging game than their 49-6 romp against Kansas City, Kan., Wyandotte last week.
“It’s gonna be a lot different,” Loneker said, “because their (the Pioneers’) backs are against the wall, so they’re gonna come to play. This game decides the rest of the year for their seniors.”
Leavenworth’s biggest weapon is junior running back Jason Randall, who has rushed for 844 yards (fourth in the Sunflower League) and seven touchdowns this season.
Said Lisher of Randall: “He’s strong, he’s elusive, he can run over you, he can make you miss and he can outrun you.
“The way you stop that is you don’t let it get started. We’re gonna have to be sound and do some run blitzes a little early and see what we can do to slow him down a little bit.”
Free State (6-1, 1-0) leads the league in total defense (244.7 yards a game), but is sixth in rushing defense, giving up 188 yards a game.
Because Randall isn’t afraid to run over defenders, Loneker said the FSHS defense will have to be ready to hit him first. He said Free State’s linebackers are confident they can find a way to limit his big-play ability.
“Our linemen, like they’ve been doing every week, they’re gonna get double teams and shut down their (Leavenworth’s) holes, which will make us free and let us make plays,” Loneker predicted.
Averaging 37.7 points a game, Free State leads the league in scoring. Leavenworth has surrendered 25.7 points a game (ninth in the league).
FSHS senior quarterback Kyle McFarland (1,470 total yards, 11 passing touchdowns, five rushing touchdowns) said the Firebirds, winners of four straight and ranked No. 2 in Class 6A in the latest Kansas Football Media Poll, have been on a roll and their main objective is to stay alive for the district title and make the postseason.
“Every practice counts, every play counts,” McFarland said. “We’re trying to intensify our practices and come out every day and work harder and get better. Not just for this game, but for games coming up, too.”
Taking care of business tonight, Lisher added, likely secures Free State a playoff berth.
“Our guys know if Lawrence High wins and we win, we’re both in the playoffs,” the coach said, “and the winner (of next week’s city showdown) gets home field advantage.”