Free State football v. Leavenworth
Images from Friday night's game between Free State and Leavenworth at Free State High School.
Without team leader Joe Dineen playing in the second half, Free State High’s football team needed a standout performance from its stingy defense.
The Firebirds received that and more, shutting down each second-half Leavenworth drive to hold on to a 25-23 victory on Friday night at Free State.
“We stepped up. We definitely did,” Free State sophomore cornerback Bryce Torneden said. “Without our defense, there’s no way we would have won this game.”
On five second-half possessions, Free State’s defense allowed just three first downs — and one of those came on a fake punt, technically a special-teams play.
Clinging to a 25-23 lead for the final quarter and a half, the Firebirds defense stood strong one final time on Leavenworth’s final possession, which started at its own 28 with 1:32 left.
The Pioneers (3-5) advanced it to midfield with 41 seconds left before Free State’s Shane Hofer came through with a sack, pushing back Leavenworth nine yards while also burning precious seconds off the clock.
After the Pioneers spiked the ball to stop the clock, Free State again brought pressure on third and fourth downs.
There was a reason: Earlier in the game, Leavenworth quarterback Landry Hodges had completed four passes to receiver Isaiah Ross, with three of them going for more than 25 yards.
“We didn’t want that to happen again,” Free State coach Bob Lisher said. “We didn’t want him to have a free throw with no one in his face.”
A hurried Hodges pass sailed incomplete on third down, then a tipped pass on fourth-and-19 was intercepted by Free State’s Lucas Werner with 11 seconds left to seal the game.
“The defense made some plays when they had to make them,” Lisher said, “and offensively, we made just enough to come out on top.”
The Firebirds (7-1) had to recover emotionally after their quarterback Dineen took a huge hit to the mid-section on a pass attempt with 11:04 left in the second quarter.
After taking his helmet off, Dineen remained on the turf on all fours before slowly getting up and gingerly walking off the field.
Backup quarterback Tye Carter replaced Dineen at QB in the second quarter before Lisher decided to put the sophomore Torneden under center after halftime.
Following the opening kickoff of the second half — an 83-yard return for touchdown by Jason Randall that made it 23-18 Leavenworth — the Firebirds needed a spark from Torneden.
They got one the next possession. On third-and-14, Torneden avoided an oncoming rusher, rolled to his right, then found an open Zach Bickling for a 30-yard score with 8:15 left in the third quarter.
“I’m not going to lie. I was so nervous,” Torneden said. “But my line blocked great, Bick ran a great route, and I tried to hit him.”
From there, Free State’s defense did the rest, shutting down the dangerous Randall in the second half.
On Randall’s first play of scrimmage — against a three-man Firebirds defensive front — he ran 67 yards between the left guard and tackle for a touchdown.
Free State adjusted to a four-man front after that, with Randall carrying it 20 times for just 73 yards from that point forward.
Torneden finished 3-for-7 passing for 80 yards with a TD, while Stan Skwarlo added 22 carries for 102 yards with a score on Free State’s official Senior Night.
Free State remains as the only undefeated team in its district heading into Friday’s home game against Lawrence High.
Lisher said he’d know more about Dineen’s status then.
“He took a shot to the side there, upper body. We’ll just have to see,” Lisher said. “He thinks he can play. We’ll just have to wait and see what doc says.”
Free State 25, Leavenworth 23
First downs 9 17
Rushes-yards 36-141 44-175
Passing yards 119 153
Total offense 260 328
Return yards 115 91
Fumbles-lost 0-0 2-2
Penalties-yards 9-65 6-60
Score by quarters
Leavenworth 7 9 7 0 — 23
Free State 15 3 7 0 — 25
Leavenworth: Jason Randall 21-140 TD, Isaiah Ross 3-11, Landry Hodges 11-minus-9, Juwan Potts 1-minus-1.
Free State: Stan Skwarlo 22-102 TD, Bryce Torneden 7-43, Joe Dineen 3-33 TD, Carson Bowen 1-5, Team 1-minus-2, Tye Carter 2-minus-6.
Leavenworth: Hodges 4-15-119 TD, INT.
Free State: Torneden 3-7-80 TD; Dineen 7-9-76; Tye Carter 1-2-minus-3.
Leavenworth: Ross 4-119 TD.
Free State: Blake Winslow 4-62, Khadre Lane 3-41, Zach Bickling 1-30 TD, Keith Loneker 3-20.
HOW THEY SCORED
8:32 — Jason Randall 67 run. Jake Boyce kick. (Leavenworth 7, Free State 0.)
5:46 — Stan Skwarlo 14 run. Zach Bickling pass from Joe Dineen. (Free State 8, Leavenworth 7.)
3:31 — Joe Dineen 4 run. Alex Trent kick. (Free State 15, Leavenworth 7.)
10:58 — Alex Trent 37 field goal. (Free State 18, Leavenworth 8.)
5:42 — Jake Boyce 25 field goal. (Free State 18, Leavenworth 10.)
5:15 — Isaiah Ross 31 pass from Landry Hodges. Hodges pass failed. (Free State 18, Leavenworth 16.)
11:46 — Randall 83 kickoff return. Boyce kick. (Leavenworth 23, Free State 18.)
8:15 — Bickling 30 pass from Bryce Torneden. Trent kick. (Free State 25, Leavenworth 23.)