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High School Sports

High School Sports

Firebirds expect test from O-East

September 20, 2013

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Probable starters

OFFENSE

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.

DEFENSE

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.

The last time Free State High’s football team faced Olathe East, in the second round of the 2012 Class 6A playoffs, a lot was riding on the outcome.

Postseason life or death won’t be part of the equation at 7 tonight at FSHS when the Hawks return to the site of their demise, but Firebirds coach Bob Lisher long ago circled this game as the first true test for his team.

Free State prevailed, 28-17, in the playoffs, and Lisher said even though O-East (1-1) has different personnel than it did then, he expects a fairly similar personality from the Hawks, who aim to be one of the most physical teams in the Sunflower League.

“The biggest difference offensively,” Lisher said, “is they throw the ball a lot more than they did in the past.”

The Hawks only attempted 10 passes and accumulated 20 yards against Free State in the playoffs, but they now have senior Connor Leach playing quarterback, and he has thrown for 240 yards and five touchdowns through two games.

That doesn’t mean O-East has abandoned its traditional ground attack. Not even close. With senior Jordan Brown doing most of the damage and junior Jalen Branson helping the cause, the two running backs have combined to account for 314 yards on 72 carries.

“They still want to run the ball at you,” Lisher said. “They’re a very physical team and always have been. That’s their bread and butter.”

Free State (2-0, ranked No. 3 in 6A by Kpreps.com) expects the Hawks to run a number of formations on offense, too, senior linebacker Blake Winslow said. It will be up to the Firebirds defense not to fall for any tricks.

“They’ll pound it up the middle, just run, run, run, and when we least expect it, they’ll hit us with some play-action or something,” Winslow predicted. “We’ve got to make sure our secondary stays disciplined and doesn’t bite on that so they don’t hit us with the long ball.”

Preparing for O-East, senior linebacker Lucas Werner said, has meant upbeat, physical practices. The Firebirds want to put last week’s first-half struggles (FSHS trailed 3-0 at halftime at Shawnee Mission Northwest before scoring 20 unanswered points) behind them.

“We can’t think it’s gonna be easy or gonna be a cake walk,” said Werner, who also starts at receiver. “You gotta treat it like it’s the last game of the season and give it your all.”

While the Firebirds defense has proven robust, surrendering just 5.0 points and 109.5 yards a game to inferior opponents, Lisher and his staff weren’t thrilled with their effectiveness on the other side of the ball at SMNW.

“We didn’t execute very well — for what reason, I don’t know,” the coach said.

Added Winslow: “Our offense almost cost us last week.”

To remedy that situation, Winslow added, drills at practices this week focused on quarterback Joe Dineen and the running backs working on exchanges and pitches to get their timing right. Also, instead of two offensive units taking turns against the scout defense, the first string took consecutive reps for 10 to 15 minutes to establish a tempo and rhythm.

“This is a team (O-East), you have to score early and often on, really,” Winslow said.

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