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Football Game Tape: Week Nine
After nine weeks, the high school football postseason has finally arrived. And, arguably, Lawrence High and Free State are playing as well as any team in the state.
The Firebirds have won their last six games and saved one of their best performances for last in a 21-0 victory over Topeka High, winning a district championship. It was the school's first shutout since Oct. 5, 2012, and the Firebirds did it against one of the top offenses in the state.
It's hard to believe Free State opened the season with an 0-3 record. Of course, it was against extremely tough competition, but the Firebirds just rolled through one of the tougher districts in Class 6A.
Free State players said after their 14-12 loss in the City Showdown that they thought they could run the table afterward. Nobody is doubting their abilities anymore.
Lawrence High finished its regular season by crushing Olathe East, 47-8. On a cold and rainy night, which is a good test for playoff weather, the Lions showed off their strengths with a dominant run game and tough defense.
LHS senior running back JD Woods matched his career-high of 294 rushing yards in the victory, and won his second Sunflower League rushing title. Woods edged Olathe North's Vinson Shabazz for the league lead, 1,699 yards to 1,597. Woods also added a league-high 29 rushing touchdowns.
Heading into the season, the Lions entered with massive expectations by returning so many starters and seniors who have played since their sophomore season. They've responded with their first undefeated regular season since 1993. Of course, their goal is still a few games away, but nonetheless, an incredible march through the first nine weeks.
Now for a look ahead to next week:
Shawnee Mission North at Lawrence High at 7 p.m. Friday — The Indians (3-6) had a 2-1 record in their district, beating KC Wyandotte and KC Harmon, before losing, 56-34, to SM East. SM North entered district play on a five-game losing streak, giving up at least 42 points in each loss this season. The Indians feature one of the best passing attacks in the Sunflower League, led by junior QB Will Schneider, a three-year starter. He's thrown for 2,089 yards and 16 touchdowns with just seven interceptions. The Indians have four receivers with at least 200 yards this year.
Wichita West at Free State at 7 p.m. Friday — Wichita West (5-4) went 2-1 in its district with victories against Wichita South and a 64-63 shootout win against Campus. The Pioneers lost to Derby last week, 56-28. They have an explosive run-heavy offense, averaging 40 points per game. They use a running back by committee, led by senior D'Anthony Andrews, who has rushed for more than 1,000 yards. Senior Chaz Capps will be the third straight dual-threat QB the Firebirds have faced.
In case you missed it, we're copying one of the popular features of KUsports.com, "Keegan's Ratings," where Sports Editor Tom Keegan ranks KU football and men's basketball players after every game he attends. These individual rankings are just one person's opinion, but it's a good way to look at how each person impacted each game. I was at Free State last week and Benton Smith covered Lawrence High.
Lawrence High football
- JD Woods, RB — It was another untouchable kind of night for the senior running back, who rushed for 294 yards and four touchdowns before sitting out the final quarter and a half of the blowout.
- Amani Bledsoe, DE/RT — Between opening up gaping holes for Woods and Alan Clothier on offense and just eating O-East’s blockers alive on defense, the Hawks had no answer for the 6-foot-5, 270-pound senior lineman. Every defensive series had at least one Bledsoe highlight, with him sprinting into the backfield.
- Trey Georgie, DE/LT — O-East linemen must’ve thought they were seeing double. No. 79 Georgie, a senior, and No. 72 Bledsoe might as well have been wearing the same number on the front of their jerseys, because both dominated equally.
- Tanner Green, LB — The senior linebacker also contributed to the defensive havoc unleashed by the Chesty Lions. Every time he took the field he made a play. Before the end of the first quarter, Green was in on two tackles for loss and helped force a fumble. Just before the half, his pressure created another fumble (both recovered by O-East).
- Alan Clothier, QB — Along with Woods, the senior quarterback set the tone on offense. Clothier either made correct reads or patient runs as LHS dominated. The QB ran for 112 yards and a TD.
- Jake Unruh, DT/LG — Another defensive linemen O-East got tired of seeing and had little success blocking, the junior repeatedly knocked over and wrestled down ball carriers.
- Ivan Hollins, WR/CB — The senior receiver did the unglamorous work of blocking on the perimeter while on offense, and then went out and covered and defended the run just as well.
- Price Morgan, TE/LB — A skilled tight end who also spent all night blocking, the senior pounded the Hawks as a linebacker, too. Morgan’s pressure forced an incompletion and had one of the hardest hits of the night after chasing down a running back.
- Dante' Jackson, CB — Although the sophomore muffed a punt on a wet night, he kept playing hard on defense, showed strong pass coverage on the few times O-East took that route and, like all the Lions, shut down the run.
- Hunter Krom, RB — Once LHS had taken control, the sophomore running back kept the offense rolling, and scored two touchdowns to go with 92 rushing yards.
— Next up: Friday vs. SM North. Record: 9-0.
Free State football
- Bryce Torneden, QB/FS — Torneden did it all. He ran for 147 yards and two touchdowns, shaking defenders who tried to tackle him in space. On defense, he grabbed an interception in the first half and he helped stuff Topeka’s run game with tackles around the line of scrimmage.
- Sam Skwarlo, RB/LB — Before Friday, Topeka was holding opposing teams to an average of 37.6 rushing yards per game. Then the Trojans met Skwarlo. The senior ran for 166 yards, including a 44-yard touchdown at the end of the first quarter. Anytime he looked like he was going to be stuffed in the backfield, he just broke tackles and pushed the pile. As usual, he also made several big tackles at linebacker.
- Noah Kema, DE — Kema was dominant on the defensive line, fighting through big blockers to make tackles in the backfield. He set the tone for the night on Topeka’s second drive, making a tackle for a one-yard loss on 3rd-and-5 at the 37-yard line, forcing a punt. In the fourth quarter, he stuffed a draw play in the red zone at the line of scrimmage, leading to an interception on the next play in the end zone.
- Zion Bowlin, RB/SS — After battling an ankle injury at the beginning of the season, Bowlin is starting to hit his stride. He ran for 39 yards on six carries, but he made the biggest play of the night, intercepting a pass in the end zone in the fourth quarter with a 14-0 lead. Topeka lost momentum and didn’t get the ball back until the final minute.
- Drew Tochtrop, LB — Tochtrop needed to contain Topeka’s speedy backfield and it’s easier said than done. But Tochtrop was huge, including a big tackle at the line of scrimmage on Topeka’s second drive, which eventually led to a punt. Tochtrop also had some nice punts, which was big on a cold and rainy night.
- Chase Houk, LT — On both of Torneden’s touchdowns, the Firebirds ran the same play. Torneden took off to his left and received big blocks from Houk on the edge. Skwarlo’s touchdown run in the first quarter was also to the left side, designed to go outside before Skwarlo cut back. Against a top defense, the Firebirds ran for 377 yards.
- Jay Dineen, LG/LB — It was hard to see out of the press box windows because of the rain, so it was tough to tell how many tackles Dineen made. But he did make a solo tackle in the fourth quarter at the line of scrimmage, helping hold the Trojans to just 35 yards in the second half.
- Paul Bittinger, LB — Bittinger only had one carry, but he made it count, rumbling 17 yards down the field. He added a huge sack in the third quarter, forcing third-and-long, and some other tackles at the line of scrimmage in the first half.
- Jalen Galloway, DE — Made a couple of key stops in the first half, including a tackle for a two-yard loss at the end of the first quarter, and he made a nice tackle downfield on an 18-yard run.
- Darian Lewis, NT — Topeka High’s offensive line averaged 286 pounds, but it didn’t bother the 6-foot-1, 208-pound Lewis up the middle. He was a big factor, holding the Trojans to just 164 rushing yards on 47 attempts (3.5 yards per carry).
— Next up: Friday vs. Wichita West. Record: 6-3.
The Class 6A playoff bracket is below. A quick note: The top four seeds are all district champions, seeded by record. The bottom four seeds are based off records and the fact that teams from the same district can't play each other in the first two rounds.
No. 8 Shawnee Mission North (3-6) at No. 1 Lawrence High (9-0)
No. 5 Shawnee Mission West (7-2) at No. 4 Blue Valley (7-2)
No. 6 Olathe North (8-1) at No. 3 Blue Valley North (8-1)
No. 7 Blue Valley Northwest (2-7) at No. 2 Shawnee Mission East (8-1)
No. 8 Wichita North (1-8) at No. 1 Wichita Northwest (9-0)
No. 5 Wichita West (5-4) at No. 4 Free State (6-3)
No. 6 Topeka (8-1) at No. 3 Derby (8-1)
No. 7 Hutchinson (6-3) at No. 2 Junction City (9-0)
As always, feel free to comment, email me, or find me on Twitter @nightengalejr.