The way Free State High’s football players planned it, they wouldn’t even be having these conversations this week.
Considered one of Class 6A’s top programs entering the season, the Firebirds — at least among themselves — had a blueprint that included finishing the regular season undefeated and riding that momentum through the playoffs.
FSHS, the players figured, wouldn’t need a mid-season wake-up call in the form of a road loss to Olathe North. But that’s what the previously No. 1-ranked team received last week.
“It put us in check,” senior linebacker and receiver Keith Loneker said of Free State’s 26-19 setback. “We didn’t think anybody could beat us. Getting that loss kind of gave us perspective that we still need to work and everything.”
The Firebirds (4-1, ranked No. 2 in 6A by Kpreps.com) now find themselves re-examining their preparation and practice habits entering their latest Sunflower League challenge, tonight’s road game against No. 3 Shawnee Mission East (5-0) — kickoff at 7 at Shawnee Mission North District Stadium.
FSHS coach Bob Lisher said this week has been about practicing better. He said the players have been coachable.
“Hopefully we’ve learned from it (the loss to O-North), and we’re ready to step up and bring our A-game every week,” Lisher said. “If not, we’re in for another one (tonight).”
SME hasn’t looked flashy in its unbeaten start, but running back Luke Taylor is the league’s No. 2 rusher (679 yards, five touchdowns), behind Leavenworth running back Jason Randall (735 yards, eight scores).
The Lancers, Lisher added, play a run-heavy, wishbone style that keeps the other team’s offense off the field and allows SME to play at its desired pace.
“They’re very happy with three-, four-, five-yard gains,” Lisher said, noting the Lancers also often convert fourth-and-short situations instead of punting. “They like to come off the ball and beat you.”
Senior FSHS linebacker and receiver Khadre Lane said the defense has emphasized not only negating that push, but keeping SME out of third-and-manageable scenarios.
“They just hold the ball on offense. Our defense is focused on creating turnovers and getting our offense the ball back,” Lane said. “All their games have been low-scoring, but they score enough to win.”
FSHS senior QB Joe Dineen leads the league in total offense, with 1,209 yards and a league-best 11 touchdown passes, plus five rushing scores.
FSHS 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 — Tyler Sampson, 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 — Khadre Lane, sr.
CB — Joel Spain, jr. CB — Bryce Torneden, so. FS — Joe Dineen, sr.