Opening a football season by riding roughshod over an opponent is one thing. Finding a way to replicate that kind of supremacy is another challenge entirely.
After plastering Shawnee Mission North in a 40-point, season-opening win, Free State High (1-0, ranked No. 3 in Class 6A by Kpreps.com) doesn’t want anything less tonight against Shawnee Mission Northwest (0-1). Kickoff is 7 p.m. at Shawnee Mission North District Stadium.
“We always have the bar high,” FSHS coach Bob Lisher said. “We just had some things go our way last week, and we want that to continue … This week, I’d like for it all to be due to us, by execution.”
The buzz words for the Firebirds defense this week have been: squeezing down gaps. Their coaches liked what they saw out of their first-string defense, which built a 47-0 halftime lead against SMN, but they think the players are capable of creating even more chaos through more fundamentally based play.
Senior defensive end Zach Bickling said defensive coordinator Brett Oberzan emphasized that a more sound assignment approach than what the Firebirds showed last week will make them even more successful.
Nothing makes the linemen, linebackers and defensive backs happier than getting an opponent to panic and make a mistake, and Bickling said Oberzan rallies the players to make that happen.
“Once we’re on the field,” Bickling added, “the whole defense takes it over.”
Senior linebacker Stan Skwarlo forced a fumble that led to a Keith Loneker defensive touchdown on the first possession of last week’s romp. He said the goal is to open every game in similar fashion.
“I think if we can get a turnover right off the bat,” Skwarlo said, “it just lifts us up.”
Lisher wasn’t ready to anoint this year’s defense — featuring starting linemen Bickling, Tyler Sampson and Josiah LeBrun, linebackers Skwarlo, Loneker, Lucas Werner, Blake Winslow and Carson Bowen, and defensive backs Joe Dineen, Bryce Torneden and Khadre Lane — one of the best ever at Free State, but the coach said if the players stay healthy and keep improving, they could end up in that conversation.
“There’s a lot of variables there,” Lisher said, with a chuckle. “We have to come together. We have to trust each other.”
Offensively, Lisher said Free State aims to accomplish more tonight than it did last week, too.
“We scored a lot of times on athletic ability,” he said, “and not execution.”
Free State probable starters
LT — Scott Frantz, jr.
LG — Spencer MacDonald, sr.
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 — Carson Bowen, jr.
CB — Khadre Lane, sr.
CB — Bryce Torneden, so.
FS — Joe Dineen, sr.