Joe Dineen was convinced he and his Free State High football teammates knew exactly what Olathe East was about to run on a critical two-point conversion Friday night at FSHS.
They paid no attention to the man in motion and zeroed in on Hawks senior running back Jordan Brown, who had just rushed for a two-yard touchdown to get O-East within two points of Free State with 1:33 left on the fourth-quarter clock.
Dineen was right. The senior free safety and junior defensive lineman Shane Hofer converged on Brown and stuffed him in the backfield, securing a 28-26 comeback victory for the Firebirds.
“I was pretty fired up after that one,” said Dineen, who ran back toward the FSHS sideline screaming with exuberance.
The emotion Dineen, a Kansas University football commit, showed after Free State (3-0, ranked No. 3 in Class 6A by Kpreps.com) came up with the crucial stop far outweighed his celebrations following his four total touchdowns — one rushing and three passing.
“I love defense. It’s what I’m going to play in college for. It’s just a great feeling, man,” said Dineen, who rushed for 80 yards and threw for 215 more. “… They say you’ve gotta win offense, defense and special teams. Well, I guess we did it all tonight. It wasn’t pretty, but we did do it.”
O-East (1-2) attempted an onside kick and nearly pulled it off, after getting stymied on a two-point conversion for the second time in the game. However, after a swarm of players from both teams piled up on the loose ball, Free State senior Blake Winslow emerged with possession.
A couple of Stan Skwarlo runs picked up a much-needed first down, and four plays later the Firebirds escaped victorious, in large part due to their play on special teams.
As excited as they were to thwart O-East in the final minutes, coach Bob Lisher said another special-teams performer stood out for him. Senior kicker Alex Trent, making his season debut after spraining ligaments in his left ankle prior to Week 1, had to kick a 35-yard extra point to give FSHS a 21-20 lead after Keith Loneker scored on a 14-yard touchdown reception. Loneker plowed over an O-East defender in the end zone, and when he looked down at his foe, the FSHS senior receiver drew a personal-foul penalty.
Trent’s kick flew straight down the middle of the field and barely cleared the cross bar.
“That’s huge,” Lisher said. “He doesn’t make that, they don’t have to go for two, and we’re in overtime.”
Dineen called Trent, who doubles as a Firebirds soccer player, one of the best kickers he has seen play for Free State.
“I knew it was going straight. I didn’t know if it had the distance or not, and it did. He’s great,” Dineen said of Trent, known for his long, curly red locks that can’t be contained by a helmet. “He’s got an amazing leg, and he’s got amazing hair, too.”
After Trent’s booming extra point, Free State’s defense forced a three-and-out once cornerback Bryce Torneden broke up a Connor Leach pass on third-and-two.
Free State’s offense followed suit by using 5:01 of game clock for a nine-play, 72-yard touchdown drive that included first-down pick-ups by senior running back Skwarlo (17 carries, 69 yards) and an amazing one-on-one play by junior receiver Joel Spain, who first ducked his would-be tackler, then juked him to get into the end zone for a 46-yard touchdown on a pass from Dineen.
Spain (three catches, 84 yards) had left the game early in the second quarter after he hit his head on a tackle attempt. A doctor checked him for a concussion just before halftime and cleared him to return for the second half.
The receiver and quarterback set up the go-route touchdown a play earlier, with a slant for 11 yards. Spain said they knew then they could look for the deep pass down the sideline.
“Luckily I got a good juke,” Spain said, “to get into the end zone.”
For the second straight week, the Firebirds trailed at halftime. In fact, FSHS got into a 13-0 hole and trailed, 20-7, at the break. But, once again, the players straightened things out in the second half.
Lucas Werner, Josiah LeBrun and Tyler Sampson all made defensive plays to force O-East to a three-and-out to open the third quarter.
Then Spain returned a punt 21 yards, and before the Hawks could force a third down, Dineen found Zach Bickling wide-open deep for a 38-yard score that put the Firebirds within a touchdown.
“We have good leaders,” Spain said. “At halftime, they really get us back on track. We need to start the games off better. We can’t keep counting on comebacks against really good teams.”
Next week, FSHS plays host to defending Class 6A champion Shawnee Mission West, which knocked the Firebirds out of the 2012 playoffs in the semifinals.
Free State 28, Olathe East 26
O-East | FSHS
First downs 11 | 15
Rushes-yards 43-189 | 39-147
Passing yards 65 | 215
Total offense 254 | 362
Return yards 49 | 107
Fumbles-lost 1-0 | 2-1
Penalties-yards 3-32 | 6-45
Score by quarters
O-East 13 7 0 6 — 26
FSHS 0 7 7 14 — 28
O-East: Jalen Branson, 17-96 TD, Jordan Brown 19-71 2 TDs, Connor Leach 4-10 TD, Branden Trinkle 2-10, James Wensel 1-2.
FSHS: Joe Dineen 18-80 TD, Stan Skwarlo 17-69, Keith Loneker 1-2, Blake Winslow 1-1, Team 2-minus-5.
O-East: 5-11-65 interception.
FSHS: Dineen 9-19-215 3 TDs and interception.
O-East: Trinkle 2-37, Drae Johnson 1-16, Nathan Guthrie 1-6, Colby Stone 1-6.
FSHS: Joel Spain 3-84 TD, Zach Bickling 2-46 TD, Khadre Lane 1-42, Blake Winslow 2-29, Keith Loneker 1-14 TD.
HOW THEY SCORED
5:53 — Jordan Brown 28 run. Brown run failed. (O-East 6, FSHS 0.)
2:23 — Jalen Branson 35 run. Chris Diddle kick. (O-East 13, FSHS 0.)
10:47 — Joe Dineen 9 run. Alex Trent kick. (O-East 13, FSHS 7.)
0:53 — Connor Leach 5 run. Diddle kick. (O-East 20, FSHS 7.)
8:54 — Zach Bickling 38 pass from Dineen. Trent kick. (O-East 20, FSHS 14.)
11:53 — Keith Loneker 14 pass from Dineen. Trent kick. (FSHS 21, O-East 20.)
5:27 — Joel Spain 46 pass from Dineen. Trent kick. (FSHS 28, O-East 20.)
1:33 — Brown 2 run. Brown run failed. (FSHS 28, O-East 26.)