The first inkling of a rematch crept into the heads of Free State High’s football players on a Thursday night in early October.
The Firebirds, ranked No. 1 in Class 6A at the time, had just lost their first game of the season, at Olathe North.
It didn’t take long, FSHS senior linebacker and receiver Blake Winslow recalled, for some of the dejected players to wonder if they might face the Eagles again.
“Man, we really hope we can get another shot at them,” Winslow said of the prevailing thought, following a 26-19 O-North victory on Oct. 3.
This week, in the second round of the playoffs, Free State (9-1) gets its chance. Coach Bob Lisher’s Firebirds, who haven’t lost since, return to Olathe District Activity Center on Friday for the rematch they desired more than five weeks ago.
Senior quarterback Joe Dineen said the setback has driven FSHS since.
“From that point on, we just kind of wanted to move on with the season and build from there,” Dineen said. “But since they’re on our schedule and we have to play them, we’re happy about it.”
Free State trailed, 13-0, in the second quarter, and O-North’s lead grew to 26-7 in the third quarter, as the Eagles utilized their star junior running back Venus Triplett (221 rushing yards, 39 receiving yards, three total touchdowns) to his full potential.
“We didn’t play very well,” Dineen said of what he remembers most of the Firebirds’ lone loss. “They played good, and Venus is a good running back. They have a pretty good defense, but nothing that we can’t handle.”
Because FSHS followed the loss with five straight victories, Winslow said the team should be ready to give O-North its best shot.
“Hopefully it will be a much better game now,” the senior said, noting hope won’t guarantee the Firebirds a thing. “When it’s a team that’s as good as they are, you can’t let them get up that early in the game. That’s just so hard to come back from.”
The Eagles (7-3) are 4-1 since their win over FSHS, with regular-season victories against Lawrence, Olathe Northwest and Olathe South, as well as a first-round, 14-3 win at Blue Valley Northwest last week. O-North’s only loss in that stretch came Oct. 25, at Gardner-Edgerton, 29-26.