The first time Gage Foster touched the ball, he ran for a touchdown. The first time he threw it? Another.
How about that for a welcome back?
“First game I played, I could tell I really wasn't 100 percent,” said Foster after Free State's 49-6 win over Shawnee Mission Northwest. “I pulled my hamstring. I think it was better to get out there and hurt it more, which sounds weird, but I re-injured it to the worst it could've been and then I was back within a week.”
He certainly looked fully back.
Foster — who played in last week's game, just not at quarterback — completed both of his passing attempts, including an 84-yard bomb to Keenan Garber for a touchdown in the second quarter. He also racked up 25 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown in limited action, though he wasn't the only one who had a solid day.
After the Firebirds fell behind 6-0, Jax Dineen, who ran for a game-high 122 yards and two scores, ripped off a bruising, 31-yard touchdown run, plowing through several defenders and into the end zone in similar fashion to a now-famous Marshawn Lynch touchdown run from the 2011 NFL playoffs.
"He's a little bowling ball" said coach Bob Lisher, adding a laugh after hearing the comparison between the two runners. "When we get him going downfield, a lot of people are just going to bounce off him."
Then it was Foster's turn to take the reins of the offense. Thanks to the Free State defense, he was in perfect position.
After the previous offensive drive, quarterbacked by starter Jordan Preston, stalled at midfield, Jake Rittman booted a 49-yard punt to pin the Cougars back at their own 1.
The Cougars' (1-3) first-down play was an end-around to Ty Lindenman, who barely avoided a safety. Then the Cougars turned to the air, but the Firebirds (4-0) forced a pair of incompletions from quarterback Spencer Stewart and the ensuing punt was shanked and fell out of bounds at the 23.
One play later, the Firebirds led 14-6.
"I knew I was keeping it," Foster said. "There was a linebacker there, but I cut underneath him and went and ran. It was only (23) yards."
It may have "only" been 23 yards but his next play certainly had full highlight potential. And it was all set up by a big defensive stand.
Trailing 14-6, the Cougars had a chance to cut into the deficit with a first and goal at the 1. Foster and David Johnson — who along with Kwinton Lassiter and Vani Martinez-Vasquez tallied interceptions in the win — came up with a big stand on first down and Gabe del Valle forced an incompletion on second.
Two plays later, the defense had kept the Cougars off the board.
"I believe in all my brothers out on the field," del Valle said of the defense's key stops. "I never doubt anybody. ... It's family, it's brotherhood."
And after getting the ball back on offense and having the drive extended by a running-into-the-kicker penalty, Foster capitalized on that stand, finding Garber deep down the middle of the field for an 84-yard touchdown.
The "big play guy," as described by his coach, wouldn't appear at quarterback for too many snaps afterward, but with Preston throwing for a pair of touchdowns and Jaxon Webb adding a late 61-yard touchdown run, the game was out of reach soon enough.
"Having him step in there and make a couple big plays kind of lit us up a little bit and got us a little more excited," Lisher said of Foster. "We have two quality quarterbacks and I'm not afraid to rotate them if I think it's necessary."
Free State 49, Shawnee Mission Northwest 6
SMNW | FS
First downs 17 | 18
Rushes-yards 15-20 | 39-306
Passing yards 305 | 153
Total offense 325 | 459
Fumbles-lost 0-0 | 0-0
Penalties-yards 8-43 | 6-50
Score by quarters
SM Northwest 6 0 0 0 — 6
Free State 14 7 14 14 — 49
SMNW: Spencer Stewart 4-8, B.J. Harvey 3-13 TD, Ty Lindenman 3-negative 5, Floyd Martin 1-negative 8, Jamie Alexander 4-12.
FS: Jax Dineen 16-122 2 TD, Gage Foster 5-35, TD, Leonjay Mack 1-3, Zach Wilson 8-31, Jordan Preston 8-54, Jaxon Webb 1-61, TD.
SMNW: Stewart 29-50—305 3 INT.
FS: Preston 3-6—71 2 TD, Foster 2-2—82 TD.
SMNW: Coby Cole 1-7, Jamie Alexander 4-45, Hayden Goodpaster 9-107, Ty Lindenman 3-25, Caleb Addington 8-106, Montze Smith 1-1, John Hanneman 1-0, Caleb Johnson 2-14.
FS: Jake Rittman 2-65 TD, Jack Theisen 1-6 TD, Keenan Garber 1-84 TD, Ben Holiday 1-negative 2.
HOW THEY SCORED
8:06 — B.J. Harvey 2 run. Andres Aguirre kick failed. (SMNW 6, FS 0.)
6:22 — Jax Dineen 31 run. Kameron Lake kick. (FS 7, SMNW 6.)
1:46 — Gage Foster 23 run. Jake Rittman kick. (FS 14, SMNW 6.)
6:43 — Keenan Garber 84 pass from Foster. Lake kick. (FS 21, SMNW 6.)
4:51 — Jack Theisen 6 catch from Jordan Preston. Lake kick. (FS 28, SMNW 6.)
1:59 — Rittman 36 catch from Preston. Lake kick. (FS 35, SMNW 6.)
3:59 — Dineen 6 run. Lake kick. (FS 42, SMNW 6.)
2:01 — Jaxon Webb 61 run. Lake kick. (FS 49, SMNW 6.)