Preparing to play Junction City on Friday, Free State’s football players did their best to raise the intensity in practice all week. If their scout team offense had positive plays, it usually resulted in up-downs for the starting defense.
There was zero chance the Firebirds were going to overlook their opponent in the second round of the Class 6A state playoffs and it showed in the first few minutes.
Free State’s defense suffocated Junction City’s rushing lanes and the offense scored on its first three possessions in an eventual 47-14 victory at FSHS, advancing to the Class 6A state quarterfinals. The Firebirds will face two-time defending state champion Derby (9-1) next week.
By the time Junction City’s offense crossed midfield in the second quarter, Free State already led by 27 points.
“I thought both sides of the ball came out on fire early,” Free State coach Bob Lisher said. “We executed everything we wanted to do both on offense and defense, and special teams for that matter.”
No player created a better start for Free State’s offense than senior linebacker Bo Miller. On the first series, he had a sack on third down. Four plays later, junior running back Jax Dineen was in the end zone for his first of three touchdown runs.
Miller recovered a fumble on the second series and had another third-down sack in the third series. The Blue Jays (5-4) only had two first downs in the first quarter, including one via penalty.
“You can’t overlook anybody and we watched film like crazy,” said Miller, who ran for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. “We knew that they had a couple of really good athletes.”
Gifted strong field position from a dominant performance from its defense, Free State’s offense quickly took advantage. On the first play of the second drive, senior quarterback Gage Foster tossed a 36-yard touchdown to senior tight end Jack Theisen. It was a play that was added back into the playbook this week, taking advantage of Junction City’s tendency to crash safeties to the line of scrimmage.
“I saw him throw it and it was right where I wanted it,” said Theisen, who had two catches for 41 yards. “I just took off and I was so excited.”
Dineen, a human bowling ball unafraid to run through defenders, added two more touchdowns runs in the first half, giving the top-seeded Firebirds (10-0) a 27-0 lead at halftime. Dineen finished with 167 rushing yards and three scores on 15 attempts.
Defensively, the Firebirds continued to punish Junction City with big hits and turnovers. Free State senior cornerback Kwinton Lassiter snagged two interceptions, raising his total to a school-record eight picks this season.
Pushing past blockers into the backfield, the Firebirds stormed the backfield for several tackles for loss by Miller, Dineen, Foster, Nathan Spain, Jalen Nash, Spencer Roe and Malik Berry.
In the third quarter, senior defensive back Gabe del Valle had an 82-yard punt return touchdown, receiving several strong blocks in front of the team’s sideline.
“We just expect a lot from ourselves,” Miller said, “and that definitely that helps us.”
Lassiter added: “We came in and we knew we had to focus and hit first. After that, we just continued to do it until there were zero seconds left.”
FREE STATE 47, JUNCTION CITY 14
JC | FSHS
First downs 14 | 12
Rushes-yards 43-130 | 39-281
Passing yards 144 | 74
Total offense 274 | 355
Fumbles-lost 1-1 | 1-0
Penalties-yards 5-30 | 10-96
Score by quarters
Junction City 0 0 0 14 — 14
Free State 20 7 6 14 — 47
JC: Russell Wilkey 11-67, Christopher Randolph 13-27 TD, Rooster Adams 10-25, Baylor Wilkey 3-9, Andrew Khoury 3-negative 3 TD, DJ Giddens 2-2, Aaron Hamilton 1-3.
FS: Gage Foster 12-67, Jax Dineen 15-167 3 TD, Keenan Garber 2-0, Zach Wilson 3-20 TD, Jordan Preston 2-6, Bo Miller 5-21 TD.
JC: Khoury 7-12—119 INT, Adams 4-6—25 INT.
FS: Foster 7-13—74 TD, Preston 0-1—0.
JC: Hamilton 6-82, Jalen Brooks 1-18, Max Bazan 3-26, Ethan Alcorn 1-18.
FS: Jack Theisen 2-41 TD, Jake Rittman 2-22, Dineen 1-9, Garber 2-2.
HOW THEY SCORED
8:42 — Jax Dineen 11 run. Kameron Lake kick. (FS 7, JC 0.)
7:06 — Jack Theisen 36 pass from Gage Foster. Lake kick. (FS 14, JC 0.)
1:22 — Dineen 13 run. Lake kick failed. (FS 20, JC 0.)
5:53 — Dineen 14 run. Lake kick. (FS 27, JC 0.)
3:15 — Gabe del Valle 82 punt return. Lake kick failed. (FS 33, JC 0.)
11:17 — Andrew Khoury 1 run. Easton Rindt kick. (FS 33, JC 7.)
8:01 — Bo Miller 3 run. Jake Rittman kick. (FS 40, JC 7.)
2:51 — Zach Wilson 16 run. Rittman kick. (FS 47, JC 7.)
1:03 — Christopher Randolph 3 run. Rindt kick. (FS 47, JC 14.)