OLATHE — It’s only five weeks into the high school football season and Free State football players and coaches are no longer surprised by many of the highlight plays from junior running back Jax Dineen.
Once again Thursday, Dineen worked his magic with the ball in his hands, rushing for 180 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-6 victory over Olathe South at the Olathe District Activity Center.
Dineen’s performance included a pair of touchdowns where he was hit by a defender in the backfield or line of scrimmage. At the end of the third quarter, on a 4th-and-4 play, Dineen nearly fumbled the handoff from quarterback Jordan Preston, but instead turned into a 5-foot-10, 225-pound bowling ball and ran through defenders on his way to a 14-yard touchdown.
“That was a little scary,” Dineen said of the near fumble. “But once I got a hold of it, I started getting downfield and it worked.”
Free State football v. Olathe South
View a gallery of images from Thursday night's game between Free State and Olathe South at Olathe District Activity Center.
Dineen helped the Firebirds erase a slow start when he broke two tackles in the backfield and sprinted down his team’s sideline for a 50-yard touchdown run midway through the first quarter.
“We can count on him to make a big run when we really need it,” senior linebacker Bo Miller said of Dineen.
The Firebirds (5-0, ranked No. 1 in Class 6A) certainly hurt themselves on offense throughout the first half. There were penalties in the red zone, including an illegal formation penalty that wiped out a touchdown pass. They missed two field goals.
But in the final minute of the first half, Free State took advantage of a roughing-the-passer penalty. On the next play, senior quarterback Gage Foster, who played a few series in spell of Preston, connected with junior Keenan Garber on a 35-yard pass. Dineen eventually scored on a one-yard run.
Except instead of celebrating in the locker room, Olathe South (1-4) senior Jamison Phelps returned the ensuing kickoff for a 96-yard touchdown, cutting Free State’s lead to 14-6.
“We sometimes have a little problem with focus,” Free State coach Bob Lisher said. “We thought we needed a little focus talk at halftime. Not only tonight, but sometimes we have some problems focusing at practice, which carries into tonight. It showed tonight.”
In the second half, Free State’s defense proved its dominance once again. The Firebirds held the Falcons to only one first down throughout the third quarter, via a pass interference penalty.
After having some trouble against Olathe South’s run game in the first two quarters, the Firebirds stormed the backfield for punishing tackles. Miller and sophomore Lovette Epelle forced a fumble on a sack, which was recovered by senior Nathan Spain. Dineen and Foster added sacks.
Midway through the fourth quarter, senior cornerback Kwinton Lassiter grabbed an interception, his fourth of the season. Lassiter said his personal goal is 10 takeaways this year.
“We just keep saying in our head and talking out loud, ‘Let’s keep it up. Let’s keep it up. They aren’t getting a single yard,’” Miller said. “Spain says that every time we get on the field.”
With a strong showing from the defense, Free State’s offense took advantage of the field position. Kameron Lake hit a 20-yard field goal and Foster scored on a 12-yard run, helping turn the game into a rout. It's the program's first 5-0 start to the season since 2006.
“Coach got on us,” Dineen said. “Our team had to come together. We had to become leaders and we decided to keep pushing.”
FREE STATE 31, OLATHE SOUTH 6
FS | OS
First downs 14 | 9
Rushes-yards 36-276 | 29-80
Passing yards 85 | 101
Total offense 361 | 181
Fumbles-lost 1-0 | 3-1
Penalties-yards 7-55 | 7-50
Score by quarters
Free State 7 7 10 7 — 31
O-South 0 6 0 0 — 6
FS: Jax Dineen 15-180 3 TD, Jordan Preston 7-44, Colter Maldonado 1-negative 1, Gage Foster 5-43 TD, Zach Wilson 7-8, JaBrandion Douglas 1-2.
OS: Tyler Cavil 20-102, Jake Noernberg 1-3, Evan Foster 8-negative 25, Team 2-negative 9.
FS: Preston 6-14—50, Foster 1-4—35.
OS: Foster 11-25—101 INT.
FS: Jake Rittman 2-8, Keenan Garber 3-64, Dineen 1-7, Maldonado 1-6.
OS: Cavil 1-1, Noernberg 2-36, Grant Stainbrook 2-10, Jamison Phelps 1-31, AJ Shields 1-10, Benjamin Landshut 2-2, Blaize White 1-11.
HOW THEY SCORED
3:31 — Jax Dineen 50 run. Jake Rittman kick. (FS 7, OS 0.)
0:33 — Dineen 1 run. Kameron Lake kick. (FS 14, OS 0.)
0:20 — Jamison Phelps 96 kick return. Tyler Freeman kick failed. (FS 14, OS 6.)
7:06 — Lake 26 field goal. (FS 17, OS 6.)
1:01 — Dineen 14 run. Rittman kick. (FS 24, OS 6.)
8:50 — Gage Foster 12 run. Lake kick. (FS 31, OS 6.)