The Free State High football team’s coaches and players noticed a significant difference in one critical area last week, and the change wasn’t a good one.
Though the Firebirds defeated Olathe North, 34-28, coach Bob Lisher thought the offensive line struggled and didn’t react when O-North’s defense attacked.
The offensive linemen — seniors Riley Buller and Cody Stanclift, and juniors Fred Wyatt, Tyler Sampson and Reid Buckingham — noticed the disappointing step backward, too. Center Buckingham said he and the other linemen weren’t even coming off the ball correctly.
“The first three games, the O-line didn’t do a horrible job, but we knew we needed to get better,” Buckingham said. “Something about last week, we just were not on the same page at all.”
The Firebirds (3-1) will attempt to resolve their issues against Shawnee Mission North (0-4) tonight at 7 at SMN District Stadium.
Buckingham said the FSHS coaches have insisted that the linemen start playing with greater physicality on both sides of the ball, not just tonight, but for the rest of the season. The center said the Firebirds have to get their O-North performance out of their system.
“We moved the ball pretty well on offense, but it made the running backs’ and receivers’ jobs a lot more difficult,” he said, “because we weren’t performing like we should have on the offensive line.”
Senior Free State defensive back Demarko Bobo said other issues that arose in last week’s win need to be addressed, as well.
“We didn’t come out as hot as we expected,” Bobo said, referring to a 14-7 halftime lead. “For the next game we need to come out more prepared mentally.”
And there’s an easy way to change that.
“It all starts in the locker room,” Bobo added, “not goofing around and focusing in on what you should be doing (in the game).”
Defensively, Free State will have junior free safety Joe Dineen back from injury tonight. Sophomore Joel Spain replaced Dineen versus O-North and Lisher said Spain played magnificently. The only problem was Spain had to make a lot of tackles.
“We weren’t getting it done sometimes with our front six,” Lisher said. “Hopefully we can get that ironed out quickly, because Shawnee Mission North leads the league in rush offense.”
The Indians rushed for 279 yards Friday in a 46-20 loss to Lawrence, with Jesse Patterson accounting for 162 yards and a TD. The Firebirds have allowed 221 yards a game on the ground this season. The bulk of those came the previous two weeks, against O-North and Olathe South, so Lisher and his staff have made it clear that trend can’t continue this week.
With one less day of preparation available, due to the Thursday game, Lisher said the game plan has been simple and the Firebirds have responded well.
“Thank goodness this is our only Thursday night game, because it’s tough on everybody,” Lisher said, adding preparation wasn’t the issue. “It’s coming to school the next day and making sure we get in to class, including me.”