Free State overcomes mistakes in 35-14 win
photo by: Carter Gaskins
It wasn’t as quick as usual, but Free State’s football team was able to take care of business for the fourth consecutive week.
After being a tied through two quarters, the Firebirds scored four times in the second half to claim a 35-14 victory over Shawnee Mission West Friday at FSHS. Even though head coach Bob Lisher wasn’t satisfied with his team’s overall performance, he will certainly take a win any night.
“We are obviously pleased to win our homecoming game,” Lisher said. “We left some plays on the field. We had a lot of plays called back, but our kids persevered and overcame it.”
At the very least, the Firebirds will have several teachable moments when they study the film. Free State scored nine times, but four of them were ultimately called back by penalties. FSHS — at least for one night — were challenged in all aspects.
“It shows our team can fight adversity,” senior Jax Dineen said. “In the first half, they were getting us. We came out and just kept fighting.”
Free State, which is ranked No. 2 in Class 6A by Kpreps, was in unfamiliar territory throughout the first half.
Senior Keenan Garber scored on a 70-yard run on the first play from scrimmage, which was called back via a holding penalty. Seven plays later, however, Garber netted a 20-yard rushing touchdown to give the home team an early advantage.
Shawnee Mission West fumbled on the ensuing kickoff return, though junior Malik Berry threw an interception just two plays later. And that’s when the mistakes began to stack up.
Following the turnover, the Vikings responded with a 23-play drive that accumulated 93 yards. They were benefited by a pair of penalties from the Firebirds, maintaining a possession that took nearly 13 minutes off the clock. Junior quarterback CJ Callaghan notched a 1-yard rushing touchdown to finish off the drive at the 8:55 mark in the second quarter.
Prior to that, Free State hadn’t allowed any points this year.
“Several penalties kept the drive alive,” Lisher said. “It ate up 12-13 minutes. That’s a lot.”
Neither team scored the remainder of the first half, though Free State continued to make errors with four more penalties and a fumble by Berry.
However, FSHS flashed its dominance in the second half over a program that hasn’t won since Oct. 28, 2016.
The Firebirds reclaimed the lead with 9:57 left in the third quarter on a 28-yard touchdown run by Berry. Dineen then halted a promising Vikings’ drive with an interception in the red zone. Dineen later punched it in with a 1-yard touchdown run at the 4:48 mark in the third quarter.
“I got a little tired,” Dineen said of his interception return. “I saw the ball, I went and got it. I kept running, but I got tired.”
Senior LJ Mack notched the team’s fourth rushing touchdown on the night with an 8-yard score on a sweep early in the fourth quarter. For good measure, Dineen added an 11-yard rushing touchdown late in the game.
As a team, the Firebirds finished with 279 yards on 30 carries and had four different players record a rushing touchdown. The offensive line of junior Turner Corcoran along with senior Shane Skwarlo, senior Kyle Flachsbarth, senior Zach Rasys and junior Ryan Lutz helped pave the way for another strong rushing performance.
The biggest change in the second half, however, was the defense finding its form. Senior linebackers Jalen Nash, Matt Georgie and Dineen were credited with multiple stops in the win. Shawnee Mission West finished with 146 rushing yards, including 80 in the second half.
“I don’t know if we were as focused as we have been,” Lisher said. “I don’t think we were ready to start the game.”
Free State plays host to Sedalia Smith-Cotton (Mo.) at 7 p.m. Friday.
FREE STATE 35, SM WEST 14
FS | SMW
First downs 17 | 17
Rushes-yards 30-279 | 44-146
Passing yards 29 | 78
Total offense 308 | 224
Fumbles-lost 1-1 | 1-1
Interceptions 1 | 1
Penalties-yards 12-130 | 6-70
Score by quarters
Free State 7 0 14 14 — 35
SM West 0 7 0 7 — 14
SMW: CJ Callaghan 11-6, Joseph Caudillo 11-32, Treyvon Gilyard 21-107, Wesley Clark 1-1
FS: Jax Dineen 13-121, Malik Berry 10-97, Keenan Garber 1-20, Tyler Bowden 1-8, Ja’Brandian Douglas 3-22, Jaxson Webb 2-11
SMW: CJ Callaghan 9-17-78
FS: Malik Berry 5-7-29
SMW: Joseph Caudillo 1-7, Wesley Clark 7-61, Will Humphreys 1-10
FS: Keenan Garber 2-15, Jaxson Webb 1-5, Payton Sparks 2-9
HOW THEY SCORED
8:01 — Keenan Garber 20 run. Connor Gellender kick good. (FS 7, SMW 0)
8:55 — CJ Callaghan 1 run. Brian Brown kick good. (FS 7, SMW 7)
9:57 — Berry 28 run. Gellender kick good. (FS 14, SMW 7)
4:48 — Jax Dineen 1 run. Gellender kick good. (FS 21, SMW 7)
11:27 — LJ Mack 8 run. Gellender kick good. (FS 28, SMW 7)
7:08 — Wesley Clark 4 pass from Callaghan. Brown kick good. (FS 28, SMW 14)
5:25 — Dineen 11 run. Gellender kick good. (FS 35, SMW 14)