Strong start lifts Free State to convincing win over Olathe West
photo by: Kyle Babson
OLATHE — After winning the coin toss, Free State’s football team elected to defer to Olathe West. Yet it merely delayed the inevitable.
The Firebirds forced the opposition into a punt after three plays on the first drive and wasted no time sending a message. Free State scored on the second offensive play of the 2018 season and never looked back, scoring 27 points in the first quarter during a 41-0 win Friday at Olathe District Activity Center.
It marked Olathe West’s first-ever loss as the program began its first varsity football season in school history.
“They were hyped and they should be,” Free State coach Bob Lisher said. “It was their first varsity game. Our guys did a nice job of making some big plays early to take the wind out of the sails.”
Regardless of the opponent, the Firebirds, who are ranked No. 2 in Class 6A via Kpreps, expect to have an explosive showing on a weekly basis.
Free State (1-0) ran a total of 15 plays in the first quarter, scoring four touchdowns. The lone mistake was on an extra point, which kept the Firebirds from pouring in 28 points in the first 12 minutes of action.
Following a short run by senior Jax Dineen, the Firebirds demonstrated their firepower. Junior quarterback Malik Berry hit senior receiver Keenan Garber on a seam route for a 44-yard touchdown pass.
“Our connection from the summer has just led into the season,” Garber said. “I think it will continue for the rest of the season.”
Berry wasn’t done there, however. On the Owls’ next drive, Berry made a perfect read as the team’s safety and intercepted a pass from senior Zac Krause and made an impressive return.
Senior Jaxson Webb then took advantage, recording a two-yard touchdown run on the ensuing offensive play. Webb finished with a pair of touchdowns, as he scored on an 18-yard option run in the third quarter.
Garber, a Kansas State commit, netted two more scores on passes from Berry.
The tandem linked up for a 36-yard bubble screen at the 4:34 mark in the first quarter. Berry then drilled Garber on a 39-yard post in the final minute of the opening period. Garber scored three times on four catches, accumulating 125 receiving yards. Garber also had a punt return for a touchdown, which was called back by a holding penalty.
“That punt return was special,” Lisher said. “I wish that wouldn’t have been called back, that was one of the better ones that I have ever seen. He’s explosive, he’s quick and he’s powerful.”
Free State’s defense also did its part, keeping Olathe West off the scoreboard.
Junior linebacker Ben Miller tallied three sacks. Senior defensive lineman Brandon Zeller recorded a fumble recovery, while Berry notched an interception. Junior defensive tackle Lovette Epelle and junior nose tackle Devon Buck contributed to a strong run defense.
The Owls didn’t cross midfield until late in the third quarter when reserves were playing, as senior linebackers Jalen Nash and Matt Georgie brought immense pressure all night.
Dineen led the team with 46 rushing yards on eight attempts, which was paved by a strong performance from the offensive line. Junior Turner Corcoran, senior Shane Skwarlo, junior Kyle Flachsbarth, senior Zach Rasys and junior Ryan Lutz all make up the new-look unit.
“We need to play a little smarter,” Lisher said. “Offensive line wise, they ran some stunts that we weren’t prepared for, but they adjusted well.”
Free State plays host to Olathe East at 7 p.m. Friday.
FREE STATE 41, OLATHE WEST 0
FSHS | OW
First downs 10 | 7
Rushes-yards 38-163 | 20-58
Passing yards 159 | 72
Total offense 322 | 130
Fumbles-lost 1-1 | 1-1
Penalties-yards 8-70 | 5-35
Score by quarters
Free State 27 7 7 0 — 41
Olathe West 0 0 0 0 — 0
FS: Jax Dineen 8-46, Malik Berry 14-38, Jaxson Webb 3-24, Tyler Bowden 2-12, LJ Mack 3-22, Ja’Brandian Douglas 5-20, Matt Lane 1-6, Sun Rolf 1-(minus 4), Jake Kallenbach 1-(minus 1)
OW: Zac Krause 6-(minus 5), Reggie Dennis 7-10, Gianni Lopez 3-18, Jackson Novacek 4-35
FS: Malik Berry 5-10-157, Jaxson Webb 1-3-1, Sun Rolf 1-3-1
OW: Zac Krause 11-33-72, Jackson Novacek 0-3-0
FS: Garber 4-125, LJ Mack 1-32, Cole Phillips 1-1, Owen Gonzales 1-1
OW: Ryan Wallace 1-2, Caden Barnard 5-31, Connor Delong 5-39
HOW THEY SCORED
10:16 — Keenan Garber 44 pass from Malik Berry. Connor Gellender kick good. (FS 7, OW 0)
8:41 — Jaxson Webb 3 touchdown run. Conversion failed. (FS 13, OW 0.)
4:34 — Garber 36 pass from Berry. Gellender kick good. (FS 20, OW 0)
47.8 — Garber 39 pass from Berry. Gellender kick good. (FS 27, OW 0)
2:30 — Jax Dineen 2 touchdown run. Gellender kick good. (FS 34, OW 0)
8:44 — Webb 18 touchdown run. Gellender kick good. (FS 41, OW)