OLATHE — Entering Thursday’s game against Olathe Northwest, Free State’s football team had a goal of scoring on its first offensive possession.
It only took 13 seconds.
On the first play, senior quarterback Gage Foster connected with junior receiver Keenan Garber on an 80-yard touchdown pass. Garber raced behind the entire defense on a post pattern and went untouched on his way to the end zone. It was a play the coaching staff drew up in practice this week, convinced it would work against Olathe Northwest’s defensive alignment.
Garber’s quick score was only a sign of things to come for Free State’s offense in an eventual 42-14 victory at College Boulevard Activity Center.
“That was pretty much the game plan,” said Garber, who had three catches for 93 yards. “We just came out and wanted to score the first drive, bring up the energy. We wanted to move fast.”
The Firebirds (6-0, ranked No. 1 in Class 6A) made long touchdown plays their speciality in the first half, erasing any memories of their slow starts in recent games. Foster had a 59-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, fooling the defense on a fake handoff to junior running back Jax Dineen.
At the beginning of the second quarter, on 3rd-and-10, Dineen broke through a few tackles for a 45-yard touchdown run. Junior quarterback Jordan Preston, who spelled Foster for a few drives, added a 23-yard touchdown toss to junior Leonjay Mack.
“I think our offense will get way better,” Mack said. “We’re still learning a little bit. But right now we’re performing pretty good so I’m liking it.”
All week at practice, Free State coaches repeatedly told players that they needed to stay focused and start strong. The Firebirds led 28-0 at halftime.
“We’ve only scored on first drives once in our past five games,” said Foster, who threw for 90 yards and ran for 89 in his first start at quarterback since Week 1.
With an inspired start from the offense, Free State’s defense continued to prove why it’s one of the best units in the state — even without injured starters David Johnson and Lovette Epelle. The Ravens (2-4) missed a 34-yard field goal on their opening drive and failed to move into the red zone again until the Firebirds owned a 42-0 lead.
Seniors Bo Miller and Nathan Spain combined on a strip-sack in the third quarter, forcing a fumble which led to a five-yard touchdown run by Dineen (six attempts, 90 yards, three touchdowns). With Johnson, the team's leading tackler out, Jalen Nash and Dineen closed running lanes.
With the victory, Free State coach Bob Lisher earned his 134th win at Free State, tying former Lawrence High coach Bill Freeman as the second-winningest coach all-time in Lawrence. Former LHS coach Al Woolard leads city coaches with 152 wins.
“It’s nice to be recognized as a program because coach Freeman was a great coach,” said Lisher, Free State’s only football coach. “I played for him and coached with him. To tie his 134 wins is pretty special for us and our program.”
FREE STATE 42, OLATHE NORTHWEST 14
FS | ONW
First downs 10 | 11
Rushes-yards 25-247 | 42-180
Passing yards 166 | 156
Total offense 413 | 336
Fumbles-lost 0-0 | 1-1
Penalties-yards 1-5 | 3-25
Score by quarters
Free State 14 14 14 0 — 42
Northwest 0 0 0 14 — 14
FS: Jax Dineen 6-90 3 TD, Gage Foster 8-89 TD, Zach Wilson 2-7, Jordan Preston 1-11, Bo Miller 1-1, Ja’Brandion Douglas 3-27, Jaxson Webb 4-22.
OS: Drew Dumas 22-94, Jon Bowman 9-38, Brayden Koch 11-48 TD.
FS: Foster 2-5—90 TD, Preston 6-9—76 TD and INT.
OS: Koch 11-15—153 TD, Cole Manning 1-1—3.
FS: Keenan Garber 3-93 TD, Kwinton Lassiter 1-10, Webb 1-16, Leonjay Mack 2-21 TD, Jake Rittman 1-26.
OS: Jack Parks 2-44, Weston Davis 8-68, Dumas 1-3, Cole Manning 1-41 TD.
HOW THEY SCORED
11:47 — Keenan Garber 80 pass from Gage Foster. Kameron Lake kick failed. (FS 7, ONW 0.)
5:28 — Foster 59 run. Foster run. (FS 14, ONW 0.)
10:30 — Jax Dineen 45 run. Jake Rittman kick. (FS 21, ONW 0.)
1:09 — Leonjay Mack 23 pass from Jordan Preston. Lake kick. (FS 28, ONW 0.)
5:58 — Dineen 24 run. Lake kick. (FS 35, ONW 0.)
1:43 — Dineen 5 run. Rittman kick. (FS 42, ONW 0.)
7:30 — Brayden Koch 1 run. Val Shirinian kick. (FS 42, ONW 7.)
2:05 — Cole Manning 41 pass from Koch. Shirinian kick. (FS 42, ONW 14.)