Fresh off sealing a district championship with a victory over rival Lawrence High in their regular-season finale, Free State football coach Bob Lisher and his players received some good news this weekend when they learned they would be the No. 1 seed on their side of the bracket in the Class 6A state football playoffs.
The Firebirds (8-1) play host to Olathe North (3-6), another Sunflower League program, at 7 p.m. Friday at FSHS.
“To have the opportunity to play at home is great in the first round,” said Lisher, noting if the Firebirds win they could have a chance to play a couple more home games in the upcoming weeks.
As a district runner-up, Lawrence (7-2), however, opens the postseason on the road at Gardner-Edgerton (6-3) — 7 p.m. Friday kickoff.
Lions coach Dirk Wedd said that was no shock to LHS. The coaching staff knew a loss against Free State likely meant a road trip to Gardner in the first round.
“We’ve had some time to think about it and knew what was coming down the pipe,” Wedd said, adding that Lawrence had swapped video with GEHS this season, so the Lions coaching staff is familiar with the Trailblazers and their star running back, junior Traevohn Wrench.
Of course, the Firebirds know a lot about O-North, too, having defeated the Eagles, 34-28, on Sept. 21. Lisher said he has a ton of respect for O-North coach Gene Wier and his staff.
“We know that Olathe North will play hard, and they’re a much better football team now than when we played them,” Lisher said.
O-North went 2-1 in district play to steal a playoff berth. After losing five of their first six games, the Eagles knocked off Olathe Northwest, 40-7, to open districts and won 21-14 at Olathe South to close the regular season.
Lisher said the Sunflower League always does well this time of year, and Wedd agreed, pointing to the presence of six league teams on the Lions’ and Firebirds’ side of the bracket stood out.
“When you go through the Sunflower League you know you’re gonna play the best teams,” said Wedd, noting that FSHS and Shawnee Mission West (8-1) deserved the top two seeds.
Added Wedd: “I think Shawnee Mission East is kind of the sleeper.”
SME (7-2) opens at Olathe East (5-4). If the Firebirds advance to the second round, they would face the winner of that game. A Lions win would mean a second-round meeting with SMW or Blue Valley Northwest.
Should the city’s two 6A teams both win this week and next, they’d meet again in the state semifinals. In a surprise to no one, neither Lisher nor Wedd had much to say about that.
“You can’t look forward to anything except that thing that’s right in front of you now,” Lisher said, “because if you don’t win then you don’t get a next week.”
Wedd said Gardner-Edgerton holds the Lions’ complete focus right now, and his team is excited to get the playoffs started.
“Someone’s gonna come out and get hot,” Wedd said, “and I think we’ve got as good a shot as anybody.”