No fire in first quarters
Free State football has started slow in most of its nine games this season. Below are the scores of each of those games after the first 12 minutes and the final outcomes.
Sept. 6 vs. SMN, 28-0 (W)
Sept. 13 at SMNW, 0-3 (W)
Sept. 20 vs O-East, 0-13 (W)
Sept. 27 vs SMW, 7-7 (W)
Oct. 3 at O-North, 0-7 (L)
Oct. 11 at SME, 7-0 (W in OT)
Oct. 18 at Wyandotte, 6-6 (W)
Oct. 25 vs Leavenworth, 15-7 (W)
Nov. 1 vs Lawrence, 7-3 (W)
It’s not that they’re curmudgeons. More like perfectionists.
Even with an 8-1 record that earned Free State High’s football team the No. 1 seed in the east bracket of the Class 6A playoffs, coaches and players often left the field after victories unsatisfied with the Firebirds’ overall performance.
On one such occasion, Week 2 at Shawnee Mission Northwest, FSHS was shut out in the first half before rallying for a 20-3 win. It so happens the Firebirds open the playoffs — kickoff at 7 tonight at Free State — against that same SMNW team that gave them problems eight weeks ago.
Free State’s defense, which held the Cougars to a single field goal, wasn’t the issue. The Firebirds’ six first-half offensive possessions against SMNW ended with three punts, two fumbles and a turnover on downs.
“We turned the ball over two of the first three drives,” coach Bob Lisher said, “and it’s tough to get any rhythm going when you do that, obviously. We need to hang on to the football, which we have been doing (lately).”
When senior receiver and linebacker Keith Loneker thinks back on the team’s victory over SMNW (3-6), one problem sticks out: “We came out really slow, which has been a problem throughout the season.”
Examining Free State’s first-quarter point production backs up Loneker’s assessment. Since jumping out 28-0 after one quarter against Shawnee Mission North (which didn’t win a game this fall) in the season-opener, the Firebirds led after 12 minutes just three other times and never by more than eight. FSHS tied or trailed its foe entering the second quarter five times.
That trend, senior receiver and defensive end Khadre Lane said, disturbs the Firebirds, who might need to alter their pre-game routines in some fashion.
“We just have to be more focused before the game,” Lane said, “and we’ll come out hotter.”
Loneker suggested the players will have to get out of their comfort zones if they want things to change.
“Before games, a lot of people aren’t really excited,” Loneker said. “We need to be more excited to play.”
Against SMNW tonight, Lane added, it wouldn’t hurt for Free State to show some toughness.
“They kind of hit us in the mouth that whole first half (on Sept. 13), and we didn’t really respond until the beginning of the third quarter,” Lane said.
Lisher expects the SMNW offense to look much different tonight than it did back in Week 2. The Cougars ran a lot of diamond formation and empty backfield sets back then. Of late, though, they have used more one-back and I-formation for counters and bootlegs, and have gone 3-4 since their loss to FSHS. The Cougars offense is based around getting shifty senior quarterback Jake Horner rolling out or running to an edge, and running backs Duron Lowe, a sophomore, and Laphonso McKinnis, a senior, carrying the load on the ground.
No skill player from SMNW, though, has broken into the Sunflower League’s top 10 in any category. Senior Firebirds quarterback Joe Dineen, on the other hand, is ninth in rushing yards (654), third in passing (1,276) and first in total yards (1,930) and touchdowns (25). Lane’s 465 receiving yards are good enough for fourth.
Loneker just hopes FSHS can avoid another slow offensive start.
“When we’re playing fast,” he said, “we’re hard to beat.”
Free State probable starters
LT — Scott Frantz, jr.
LG — Coleman Houk, jr.
C — Reid Buckingham, sr.
RG — Tyler Sampson, sr.
RT — Shane Hofer, jr.
QB — Joe Dineen, sr.
RB — Stan Skwarlo, sr.
TE — Zach Bickling, sr.
WR — Khadre Lane, sr.
WR — Lucas Werner, sr.
WR — Keith Loneker, sr.
DE — Khadre Lane, sr.
NT — Josiah LeBrun, jr.
DE — Zach Bickling, sr.
OLB — Stan Skwarlo, sr.
MLB — Lucas Werner, sr.
ILB — Keith Loneker, sr.
LB — Blake Winslow, sr.
OLB — Carson Bowen, jr.
CB — Joel Spain, jr.
CB — Bryce Torneden, so.
FS — Joe Dineen, sr.