Posts tagged with Football

What caught my eye: Summer football practices

In about two weeks, Lawrence High and Free State football teams will open their seasons with their first day of practice. But both schools have competed at team camps, padded camps and scrimmages throughout the summer.

In June, the two schools spent two days at the University of Kansas team camp, along with about 15 other teams around the area. They also participated in Baker University's padded team camp, which they hosted on their own fields. Along with the two city schools, Shawnee Mission East, SM South, St. Thomas Aquinas and Leavenworth were at the Baker camp. Here's some of the things that caught my eye throughout the summer, starting with the Firebirds:

The quarterback competition is becoming more clear with Dallas Crittenden as the frontrunner to start in Week One. On the last day of the Baker team camp, FSHS coach Bob Lisher said the quarterback competition would continue into the fall practices, but the QBs are ranked. As I wrote earlier in the summer, Crittenden, who transferred from Topeka Hayden, took the majority of the snaps with the first-team offense. He has a strong arm and is becoming more comfortable as a dual-threat QB.

Free State junior Gage Foster took reps with the second-team offense and played some running back on the first team, so he will likely find a role on the offense whether it's at quarterback or running back. Sophomore Jordan Preston has worked with the JV offense, giving him regular reps.

The Firebirds should feature a strong defense, anchored by Jay Dineen at middle linebacker. If the end of last season was any indication, once they became more comfortable in their "50" defense, they thrived. Some players are in new roles, but they have plenty of star power returning in Kansas commit Dineen, Zack Sanders, Daniel Bryant, Zion Bowlin and Noah Kema.

In the backfield, Bowlin and Foster appear to be in line for the most carries. Of course, that could always change because both of them have big roles on defense and don't want to exhaust themselves. But they lined up the most with the first team offense. Jax Dineen, Craig Travis and Gabe Del Valle should have the opportunity to work their way into the offense, too.

The Firebirds will have a nice mix of returners on the offensive line. The Firebirds bring back Chase Houk, Sam Hambleton and Jay Dineen. All three of them started for the majority of last season and continuity is a big piece for any offensive line.


Now for thoughts on Lawrence High:

Dante' Jackson is making steady progress at quarterback. The 5-foot-7 junior looked better and better as the summer continued. He showed off his playmaking skills last season as a punt returner and slot receiver, but obviously the biggest adjustment is learning to throw and run an offense. Along with learning the position for the first time, he will be asked to run a no-huddle offense. But if the enthusiasm by his teammates is any clue, he should be more than ready by the first game on Sept. 2.

Speaking of Jackson, he showed a nice connection with his receivers, in particular Ekow Boye-Doe. Obviously summer scrimmages don't exactly translate to games, but Boye-Doe was on fire every time I saw him play. He made some nice catches over the middle and caught some passes through traffic. Harrison King and Jalen Dudley also made some nice plays at receiver.

Opposing coaches were raving about the potential of senior defensive lineman Jacob Unruh. With the Lions moving to platoons for the first time, Unruh can save all of his energy for the defensive side of the ball. He wrecked havoc on the limited contact scrimmages, shedding blockers and finding his way into the backfield. Along with Unruh, senior BJ Murry looked strong on the defensive line.

Watching younger players turn into seniors, it's interesting to see who turns into the vocal leaders of the team. On offense, one of the loudest voices was senior running back Trey Moore, who missed several games at the end of last year because of a fractured scapula in his left shoulder. Moore was a great backup running back for the past two seasons, and should be prime for a big season. On defense, senior Cade Burghart isn't as vocal as some of his teammates, but sets the tone by showing his younger teammates the right way to complete drills and everything else.


As always, feel free to comment, email me, or find me on Twitter @nightengalejr.

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Football Game Tape: Week Eleven

After a two-point loss in the City Showdown, Free State High football players remained upbeat in practice the following the week. They knew they were a better team than their 0-3 record showed, and were confident they could turn their season around.

Now the Firebirds are one win away from a spot in the Class 6A state championship game following a 52-34 victory over top-seeded Wichita Northwest in the quarterfinals.

"I think that our mood is pretty good for the upcoming weeks," FSHS senior lineman Tanner Liba said a few days after the City Showdown. "We definitely think that we can go 6-3 — undefeated for the rest of the season. We’re all pretty confident.”

The Firebirds have now won eight straight games. They have a ton of confidence in their defense and they can back it up. This season, they've faced the No. 2 (Northwest), No. 3 (SM East), No. 5 (Lawrence High), No. 6 (Topeka High) and No. 8 (Olathe North) scoring offenses in Class 6A. Those elite offenses have only scored 12 touchdowns in 20 quarters against Free State's defense, which includes two touchdowns by Northwest when the Firebirds held a 25-point lead in the fourth quarter.

"I don’t think we’re too surprised about it," FSHS senior Drew Tochtrop said Friday. "We knew we were capable of doing this."

Lawrence High had trouble on both sides of the ball against Blue Valley and suffered a season-ending 42-17 loss.

Of course, the Lions were disappointed with the loss. They had their eyes set on winning a state championship. But they'll be able to look back on their season with plenty of pride. They won a Sunflower League title and completed the school's first undefeated regular-season since 1993.

It's always great to see a community rally around a team, and that definitely happened at Lawrence High this fall. And one loss can't take away from those accomplishments.

Now for a look ahead to next week:

Free State at Derby at 7 p.m. Friday — The Panthers (10-1) feature the top scoring offense in the state and a tough defense. They've won their past eight games, including playoff wins over Topeka High and Junction City. Derby has dealt with plenty of injuries, losing star RB Garrett Xanders to a torn ACL in September and RB Kristian Breedlove to an injury last week. The Panthers are led by dual-threat QB Brady Rust, who ran for 292 yards against Junction City, and threw for another 124 yards. It's the sixth time in eight seasons the Panthers have advanced to the semifinals.

Free State players celebrate following their 52-34 victory over Wichita Northwest Friday night in Wichita.

Free State players celebrate following their 52-34 victory over Wichita Northwest Friday night in Wichita. by John Young


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.

Lawrence High football

  1. Alan Clothier, QB — The LHS senior quarterback did all he could to keep the Lions within striking distance. With the Blue Valley's defense focused in on running back JD Woods, Clothier took matters into his owns hands by bolting for a 93-yard run with the Lions backed up near their own goal line. Woods scored on the next play to tie it at 7-7. Clothier accounted for the Lions' other touchdown on a 74-yard quarterback keeper.

  2. Amani Bledsoe, DE/RT — Bledsoe got to Blue Valley quarterback Colton McCumber midway through the first quarter for a sack that resulted in a 12-yard loss. McCumber adjusted after that by getting rid of the ball quickly for the rest of the night by either handing the ball off to running back Will Evans, or finding receiver Taylor Debey open on five-yard out routes. Bledsoe also helped spring Clothier loose for his 74-yard touchdown run.

  3. JD Woods, RB/DB — Woods let there be no doubt that he was not going to give up until time ran out on the Lions. Clothier was starting to find a rhythm with Woods by dumping the ball off to him on shovel passes. The Tigers defensive line finally snuffed one out, though, and leveled Woods midway through the fourth quarter as the Lions were driving. The hit left the crowd silent as Woods was slow to his feet, and unsteady as he tried to walk off the field. Woods' night appeared to be done, but he came back out a few plays later on the defensive side of the ball to join the LHS secondary.

  4. Tanner Green, LB — The Lions would likely have faced a bigger halftime deficit had it not been for some timely tackling from Green. Blue Valley reached the red zone on its first two drives, but came up empty thanks to a couple of big hits by Green.

  5. Cole Brungardt, K — After the Lions gave up 21 unanswered to trail Blue Valley, 28-7, with time winding down in the first half, LHS desperately needed some points before the break. Brungardt nailed a 40-yard field goal with two seconds remaining in the first half to cut the deficit to 18 points. The LHS kicker was also 2-for-2 on extra points.

  6. Trey Georgie, DE/LT — It was a rare night where Georgie and Bledsoe were not able to help the Lions control either side of the line. Georgie did have a big block to give Clothier running room on the left side for his 93-yard burst in the second quarter.

  7. Santino Gee and Cade Burghart, S — After McCumber came out firing and completed his first three passes for big gains, the safety combo of Gee and Burghart played big roles in helping the Lions defense bend, but not break on Blue Valley's first two drives with crucial pass break-ups.

  8. Price Morgan, LB/TE — Morgan was held in check offensively, but came close to hauling in a deep ball from Clothier that would have likely gone for six. The ball was barely overthrown, as Morgan could not quite catch up to it. The tight end helped the offensive line free up rare running room Woods on screen and shovel passes.

  9. The seniors — LHS coach Dirk Wedd and Clothier both gave credit where it was due following the season-ending loss, and commended Blue Valley for outplaying them in each facet of the game. Clothier led a core group of seniors who started for the better part of three seasons, and made steady progress to build up to Friday’s heartbreaking loss. The seniors were in front line of Lions who turned around and clapped to congratulate Blue Valley as the Tigers raised the sectional trophy on their home turf. The Class of 2016 led the Lions to a 10-1 season and a Sunflower League championship.

    — Record: 10-1.

Free State football

  1. Bryce Torneden, QB/FS — One of the most dominating performances I’ve seen this season. He ran for two touchdowns, threw for a touchdown, caught a touchdown pass and returned an interception for a touchdown. The North Dakota State commit had 225 total yards of offense and, defensively, he was a big reason the Grizzlies had problems throwing the ball.

  2. Sam Skwarlo, RB/LB — In the fourth quarter, the Firebirds handed the ball seven straight times to Skwarlo. Each run, it looked like he was only getting stronger. He finished the drive with a 34-yard touchdown, his second TD of the game. He finished with 157 rushing yards and he made some big plays defensively, blitzing up the middle for two sacks.

  3. Jay Dineen, LG/LB — The impact Torneden made on offense, Dineen did the same for the defense. He had two sacks, forced a fumble and sent heavy pressure on a lot of pass plays, sending Wichita Northwest QB Kevin Folsom to the ground.

  4. Noah Kema, DE — After moving into a starting role, Kema’s made a huge impact each week. Kema intercepted a pass in the third quarter, and was key to stopping Northwest’s explosive run games with several tackles around the line of scrimmage.

  5. Zack Sanders, WR/CB — Tasked with covering Northwest receiver Martese Mullins, Sanders broke up a few passes and made tackles on short passes in space. Mullins finished with 86 yards on 5 catches after recording at least 140 yards and two touchdowns in the previous two games. At receiver, he had three catches for 55 yards and a touchdown.

  6. Drew Tochtrop, LB — Nobody knew whether Tochtrop would play on Friday after missing three practices with a strained back from lifting weights. After sitting out the first quarter, Tochtrop returned and immediately grabbed an interception — Folsom’s first INT of the season. He added a few tackles to stuff Northwest’s run game and recovered a fumble in the fourth quarter.

  7. Gage Foster, LB — Filling in for Tochtrop, Foster looked like a seasoned veteran at linebacker. The sophomore helped force a punt with a tackle for a 3-yard loss in the second quarter, applied a lot of heat on blitzes, and he even batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage. He might be the hardest hitting backup QB in the state.

  8. Tanner Liba, RT — The senior helped set the edge on the right side of line, along with fellow linemen Sam Hambleton and Garrett Swisher. Against an athletic defense, the Firebirds ran for 285 yards on 40 carries (7.1 yards per rush).

  9. Tanner Cobb, DB — The 5-foot-10, 150-pound sophomore made one of the biggest plays of the game, recovering a fumble on a kickoff, helping the Firebirds turn an 28-20 lead into a 35-20 advantage before halftime. Cobb also made a tackle on another kickoff return in the first half.

  10. Jack Flynn, WR/P — Flynn caught two passes for 34 yards, which includes one catch off of a deflection. But his most memorable play was tossing an eight-yard touchdown to Torneden under pressure on a trick play right before halftime. He also had a couple of good punts, helping Free State with field position.

    — Next up: Friday at Derby. Record: 8-3.

    Lawrence High sophomore running back Dante Jackson is wrapped up by a pair of Blue Valley defenders.

    Lawrence High sophomore running back Dante Jackson is wrapped up by a pair of Blue Valley defenders. by Ryan Waggoner/Special to the Journal-World


The Class 6A playoff bracket is below. The state championship will be played at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 28 at Emporia State University's Welch Stadium.

East bracket

No. 6 Olathe North (10-1) at No. 4 Blue Valley (9-2)

West bracket

No. 4 Free State (8-3) at No. 3 Derby (10-1)


As always, feel free to comment, email me, or find me on Twitter @nightengalejr.

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Football Game Tape: Week Ten

For the first time since 2012, Lawrence High and Free State football teams advanced to the Class 6A state quarterfinals.

The Lions didn't play their best defensively, but the offense picked up the slack in a 56-32 victory against Shawnee Mission North.

Behind 292 yards of offense created by senior QB Alan Clothier and another dominant game by senior RB JD Woods (186 yards, 4 TD), the Lions showed how dangerous their offense can be at its best.

The only concerning thing was the defense giving up a season-high 579 yards to SM North. At this stage of the season, opposing offenses will only get better.

"We've got some young kids in the secondary and it's crash course," LHS coach Dirk Wedd said. "It's tough. Three steps — just catch and throw — it doesn't allow our big guys to get a pass rush. (SM North QB Will Schneider) is good. We have to go Monday and get a lot better really quick because Blue Valley is going to walk in here and be able to throw it all over the yard, too."

For the second straight week, Free State's defense recorded a shutout in a 49-0 rout over Wichita West. And it's not like the Firebirds aren't facing tough offenses. Topeka High was one of the top offenses in the state and the Pioneers averaged 44 points during district play.

But credit the Firebirds with getting more comfortable in coach Bob Lisher's new defensive scheme this season, which has shut down opposing run games.

Now for a look ahead to next week:

Blue Valley at Lawrence High at 7 p.m. Friday — The first time these two teams have played each other since Blue Valley knocked the Lions out of the playoffs in 2008. The Tigers (8-2) advanced with a 37-14 victory against SM West. On a four-game winning streak, they given up just 11 points per game in those wins.

Free State at Wichita Northwest at 7 p.m. Friday — A rematch of last year's first-round playoff game when Free State won 27-16. The Grizzlies (10-0), who advanced with a 55-19 win over Wichita North, returned a lot of players and feature one of the best offenses in the state, averaging 49.3 points per contest. They're led by dual-threat quarterback Kevin Folsom, who has tossed for 1,892 yards and 25 touchdowns with zero interceptions, and rushed for 594 yards and nine touchdowns. Jahlyl Rounds is the top running back with 1,279 yards and 13 touchdowns, while Antonio Joyner is right behind with 985 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.

Lawrence High's  J.D. Woods (11) shakes off Shawnee Mission North's Sam Schwartz on Friday night at LHS.

Lawrence High's J.D. Woods (11) shakes off Shawnee Mission North's Sam Schwartz on Friday night at LHS. by Richard Gwin


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.

Lawrence High football

  1. Alan Clothier, QB — The best way to describe Clothier’s day was efficient. He completed 10 of his 13 passes for 199 yards and two touchdowns. He only ran the ball seven times and turned it into 93 yards and a touchdown. He even leveled an opponent with a huge block, springing JD Woods for a touchdown run. When he’s throwing that well, it makes the team’s rushing attack that much stronger.

  2. JD Woods, RB — It’s impressive how Woods only needs a little bit of space to make defenses pay. The Indians did their best to bottle up Woods, but he broke a few tackles and reached a couple of edges. The result was 186 yards and four touchdowns. In addition to another big game on the ground, Woods caught three passes for 44 yards, including a big 3rd-and-16 conversion in the first quarter.

  3. Price Morgan, TE/LB — Morgan was everywhere on Friday. He was constantly making tackles around the line of scrimmage, forced a fumble and recovered a fumble. He added a sack in the first quarter on a delayed blitz. On offense, Morgan caught a 32-yard touchdown on first drive with a post route over the middle of the field. He finished with 70 yards on 3 catches, however, he didn’t return after injuring his left shoulder on a 22-yard catch in the third quarter.

  4. Trey Georgie, LT/DE — SM North quarterback Will Schneider didn’t allow the Lions to get pressure on him with quick three-step drops. But Georgie still made a huge impact, batting down two passes at the line of scrimmage and partially blocking a punt in the third quarter, which led to a LHS touchdown.

  5. Tanner Green, LB — After SM North running back Marcos Garcia ran wild in the first quarter, Green helped the Lions shut down the run game. He added tackles at the line of scrimmage, including a huge stop on 4th-and-1 at midfield in the second quarter for a one-yard loss.

  6. J’Mony Bryant, WR — At the beginning of the fourth quarter, Bryant helped put the game out of reach with a 61-yard touchdown reception. He caught the ball on the right sideline, shook a defender, somehow stayed inbounds and sprinted the rest of the way with a key block from fellow receiver Nick Williams. Bryant also had a nice 35-yard kick return to open the game.

  7. Amani Bledsoe, DE/RT — Even with three-step drops, it was impressive to watch how fast Bledsoe could fight his way through blockers into the backfield. He didn’t end up with any sacks, but he tipped a few passes at the line of scrimmage. In the third quarter, he combined with a Jake Unruh for a big tackle in the backfield.

  8. Peter Afful, RB — Known for his big hits, Afful delivered a big blow when he ran for a 51-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, sprinting straight up the middle.

  9. Jake Unruh, DT/LG — Unruh, along with Nate Koehn, was a big reason the Indians didn’t run the ball well in the second half. He clogged up running lanes and make a couple of tackles in the backfield.

  10. Dante’ Jackson, WR/CB — It wasn’t a great day for the LHS secondary, allowing 323 passing yards, but Jackson knocked away two straight passes in the end zone at the beginning of the fourth quarter, keeping the Indians from scoring.

    — Next up: Friday vs. Blue Valley. Record: 10-0.

Free State football

  1. Sam Skwarlo, RB/LB — Free State’s star senior running back worked the option to perfection with longtime teammate and senior quarterback Bryce Torneden, on his way to 168 rushing yards and three touchdowns. But Skwarlo also helped bail out Torneden with a 39-yard receiving TD when Wichita West and the speedy QB ran backward to keep a play alive.

  2. Bryce Torneden, QB/FS — Although Wichita West game-planned well to contain the athletic, scrambling QB when Torneden took off to run, (42 rushing yards on 10 carries) the Pioneers often had no chance to deny Torneden through the air. The senior completed 11 of his 16 throws for 182 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Torneden had perfect loft and placement on his third-quarter TD pass to Logan McKinney.

  3. Jay Dineen, LG/LB — The fiery junior linebacker introduced himself to West’s skill players early, and kept on meeting them at the line of scrimmage or behind it all night, as FSHS stymied the Pioneers’ offense for four quarters.

  4. Noah Kema, DT — Wichita West QB Chaz Capps had to be sick of seeing the junior defensive lineman running his way. On the rare occasions West called up passing plays, Kema often found a way to pressure the QB. And on the Pioneers’ numerous runs, Kema stuffed plays before they got started or made key tackles to prevent anything major from happening.

  5. Zion Bowlin, RB/SS — Not only did the junior running back deliver 89 rushing yards on just six carries and a touchdown. On defense, the defensive back provided run support and even got in on a combined sack with Dineen late in the third quarter.

  6. Zack Sanders, WR/CB — The junior receiver’s chemistry with Torneden within Free State’s passing attack often leads to easy quick-hitters, as was the case Friday, when Sanders caught three passes for 22 yards. As a defensive back, Sanders also made one of the plays of the night, picking off a pass and setting up a FSHS TD drive.

  7. Logan McKinney, WR/CB — The senior receiver led Free State with 46 receiving yards and grabbed a TD in the third quarter that pushed the Firebirds’ lead to 42-0. McKinney also came up with a few tackles on defense.

  8. Drew Tochtrop, LB — A senior linebacker and punter, Tochtrop made a play on a kickoff, too. Just after Free State’s second TD, a high kickoff led to a West muff and Tochtrop snagged the loose ball to set up a Firebirds TD.

  9. Paul Bittinger, LB — The senior linebacker made a few plays on defense and got some carries as a RB late.

  10. Kameron Lake, K — FSHS didn’t need to use the freshman kicker for any field goals in the blowout, but Lake gives the Firebirds automatic points every time the team reaches the end zone. Lake was a perfect 7-for-7.

    — Next up: Friday at Wichita Northwest. Record: 7-3.

    Wichita West senior running back D'Anthony Andrews, center, has no where to run as he is stopped by a gang of Free State tacklers behind the line during their first round playoff game Friday night at FSHS. The Firebirds routed the Pioneers, 49-0, and with the win advance to the second round of the state playoffs.

    Wichita West senior running back D'Anthony Andrews, center, has no where to run as he is stopped by a gang of Free State tacklers behind the line during their first round playoff game Friday night at FSHS. The Firebirds routed the Pioneers, 49-0, and with the win advance to the second round of the state playoffs. by John Young


The Class 6A playoff bracket is below. Note: If a team didn't receive a home game last week, it will get one in the next week, regardless of seeding. If both teams were at home, or both teams were away, the highest seed will play at home.

East bracket

No. 4 Blue Valley (8-2) at No. 1 Lawrence High (10-0)

No. 2 Shawnee Mission East (9-1) at No. 6 Olathe North (9-1)

West bracket

No. 4 Free State (7-3) at No. 1 Wichita Northwest (10-0)

No. 3 Derby (9-1) at No. 2 Junction City (10-0)


As always, feel free to comment, email me, or find me on Twitter @nightengalejr.

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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.

FSHS senior Paul Bittinger (7) looks to shake Topeka High's Jullian Batisie.

FSHS senior Paul Bittinger (7) looks to shake Topeka High's Jullian Batisie. by Richard Gwin


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

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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).

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

    JD woods breaks through on his way to a 96-yard touchdown run as Lawrence High played Olathe East Friday at CBAC.

    JD woods breaks through on his way to a 96-yard touchdown run as Lawrence High played Olathe East Friday at CBAC. by Kevin Anderson/Special to the Journal-World


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.

East bracket

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)

West bracket

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.

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Football Game Tape: Week Eight

For the second straight season, Lawrence High and Free State football teams are headed to the state playoffs.

Both schools clinched spots with victories in the past two weeks, and the only drama for next week will be securing a district championship.

Lawrence High earned its spot in the state playoffs in dramatic fashion, winning on a game-winning touchdown pass with four seconds left in a 31-28 victory against Olathe North. The Lions held a 24-7 lead with just more than five minutes remaining, but three touchdown catches by Olathe North receiver Isaiah Simmons nearly handed LHS its first loss.

Credit the poise of LHS senior quarterback Alan Clothier, driving his team down the field for a game-winning drive and making some clutch throws 3rd-and-long and a 4th-down do-or-die play. Then of course, senior receiver Luke Padia made a nice catch in one-on-one coverage to score the game-winner.

It was the first time this season the Lions' defense allowed more than two touchdowns in a game and first time they've trailed in the second half of a game this season.

Free State avoided some dramatics with a strong fourth quarter in a 31-14 victory against Manhattan. The Firebirds struggled on a couple of plays in the third quarter, giving up two long runs to MHS quarterback Ian Trapp.

But the Firebirds were strong in the fourth quarter, putting together a few drives and finding ways into the end zone. Free State senior quarterback Bryce Torneden found his rhythm, running for 154 yards and throwing for 129 yards and three touchdowns.

Now for a look ahead to next week:

Lawrence High at Olathe East at 7 p.m. Friday (at CBAC) — The Hawks (3-5) are on a three-game losing streak and were eliminated from the state playoffs with losses against Olathe North and Olathe Northwest. The Hawks are led by senior running back Alex Conley, who has rushed for 925 yards and five touchdowns this season while Brett Kelsh and Zac Cahill also help out in the run game. Defensively, senior linebacker Nick Zinn leads the squad with 75 tackles.

Topeka High at Free State at 7 p.m. Friday — The Trojans (8-0, ranked No. 5 by Kpreps.com) have one of the most explosive offenses in the state, scoring more than 30 points in each game. They have a huge offensive line, averaging 283 pounds, led by 6-foot-6, 305-pound senior Teven Jenkins, an Oklahoma State commit. The Trojans have a three-headed rushing attack with senior running back Mike McCoy, who has rushed for more than 1,250 yards this season, dual-threat quarterback Corey Thomas and backup running back Saylor Carraway. Along with the Firebirds, Topeka High will be in the state playoffs, no matter what happens on Friday.

Lawrence High's Erik Shackelford (23) and Price Morgan (81) celebrate after bring down Olathe North senior running back Vinson Shabazz (3) for a loss during their game Friday evening at LHS.

Lawrence High's Erik Shackelford (23) and Price Morgan (81) celebrate after bring down Olathe North senior running back Vinson Shabazz (3) for a loss during their game Friday evening at LHS. by John Young


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 Lawrence High last week and Benton Smith was at Free State.

Lawrence High football

  1. Alan Clothier, QB — Undefeated season on the line in the final minute, Clothier delivered huge throws — a 36-yard connection to J’Mony Bryant and a 26-yard game-winning touchdown toss to Luke Padia. Clothier had to fight for every yard throughout the night against a tough defense, and he ran for 58 yards and a touchdown, and threw for 138 yards and two touchdowns.

  2. Luke Padia, WR — Padia had two catches, both for touchdowns. On each reception, he had to make play over a defender. On the game-winner, he found space behind the nearest cornerback and made a nice play in the back of the end zone. In the first quarter, he somehow jumped over a cornerback and stole the ball out of his hands, running untouched for a 58-yard TD. Unbelievable day for the senior.

  3. Jake Unruh, DT/LG — Every time you looked up, Unruh was making a big play. Tackles in the backfield. Recovering a fumble. He created just enough room on the offensive line for a one-yard QB sneak touchdown by Clothier. One of his biggest stops was on the first drive of the second half, making a tackle for a 5-yard loss on 3rd down, helping force a turnover on downs.

  4. Ivan Hollins, WR/CB — Playing on a special night, Hollins caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from JD Woods and made some big plays defensively. He knocked away a pass in the end zone on fourth down in the first quarter.

  5. Price Morgan, LB — It was a physical game, and Morgan closed up running lanes with a few huge hits. He was strong against the run and in pass coverage, chasing down ball carriers and receivers. He added a nice 13-yard catch on the first drive, helping set up a field goal.

  6. Amani Bledsoe, DE/RT — Bledsoe was dominant in the first half, fighting his way into the backfield and creating havoc for the Eagles. He made tackles in the backfield and provided heavy pass pressure. His only negative was going down briefly with apparent cramps in the fourth quarter on a play he made a tackle for a two-yard loss.

  7. JD Woods, RB — On the first drive, Woods made it look easy. A 14-yard run on the first play and 12 more yards just three plays later. But Olathe North toughened up afterward, and refused to let Woods shake loose for a long run. Woods was held to 92 yards on 29 carries, but he still made a big impact, throwing for a TD.

  8. Trey Georgie, DE/LT — Georgie used his huge frame to bat down a pass in the fourth quarter, helping force a punt. He also made some key blocks on the offensive line.

  9. Nate Koehn, DT — Recovered a fumble that set up a touchdown and made a few tackles for a loss when Olathe North’s quarterback tried to scramble on read-option plays.

  10. J’Mony Bryant, WR — He made a huge catch on the game-winning drive, converting a 3rd-and-15 with a 36-yard catch.

    — Next up: Friday at Olathe East. Record: 8-0.

Free State football

  1. Bryce Torneden, QB/FS — The Firebird responsible for three passing touchdowns and 154 rushing yards also got it done on defense, with a late-game interception.

  2. Paul Bittinger, LB — The senior linebacker couldn’t stop making plays. In a game that only featured two critical FSHS mistakes on defense, Bittinger established the tone for three quarters worth of shutout football. On Manhattan’s first series of the game, he got in on stops on both third and fourth down and finished the first quarter with a sack. It seemed every time you looked up he was leveling an MHS player.

  3. Jay Dineen, LB — Another play-making FSHS linebacker, the junior routinely flew at Manhattan ball-carriers and tended to be one of the Firebirds in on minimal gains and negative plays for visiting MHS.

  4. Sam Skwarlo, RB/LB — You knew Manhattan wouldn’t be able to keep the senior running back bottled up all night. In a tie game in the fourth quarter, Skwarlo won the momentum back for Free State with a timely 35-yard touchdown. And, as usual, he made plenty of plays at linebacker, too.

  5. Darian Lewis, DT — Along with all the work the senior defensive lineman did up front to make sure Free State’s linebackers could go make plays, Lewis also secured a Manhattan fumble in the fourth quarter. Less than two minutes later, the Firebirds had extended their lead to two touchdowns.

  6. Zion Bowlin, RB — Free State’s coaches provided a new way to get the junior running back involved on offense, with a new passing play. Bowlin, who had been protecting on most of the Firebirds’ throwing downs, slipped out and came up with an amazing catch for a six-yard TD in the fourth quarter. Bowlin caught three passes for 55 yards.

  7. Zack Sanders, WR — A junior wide receiver whose timing with QB Torneden keeps improving, he came up with four catches for 50 yards versus Manhattan. Sanders’ first catch of the night came in the second quarter and broke a scoreless tie, when he broke open in the middle of the field for a 23-yard TD.

  8. Drew Tochtrop, LB — Along with a pair of punts that forced Manhattan to open drives inside its own 10-yard line, the senior linebacker also applied pressure to the MHS quarterback on a handful of occasions.

  9. Noah Kema, DT — A junior defensive lineman, Kema pressured the QB intone an incompletion, brought him down for a five-yard loss and helped stop the running back for no gain during one fourth-quarter series.

  10. Jack Flynn, WR — The senior receiver only caught one pass, but boy was it an important one. Flynn worked his way open near the back of the end zone midway through the second quarter and snagged an 11-yard touchdown catch that put Free State up 14-0.

    — Next up: Friday vs. Topeka. Record: 5-3.

    Zach Sanders (11) runs for a big gain in the 4th quarter against Manhattan High School Friday night, Oct. 23, 2015, at FSH.

    Zach Sanders (11) runs for a big gain in the 4th quarter against Manhattan High School Friday night, Oct. 23, 2015, at FSH. by Mike Yoder


Here's quick look at the district standings that Free State and Lawrence High are in:

District 4:

Lawrence High, 8-0, 2-0, +24 point differential

Olathe North, 7-1, 1-1, +18

Olathe Northwest, 6-2, 1-1, -4

Olathe East, 3-5, 0-2, -38

District 5:

Topeka High, 8-0, 2-0, +42

Free State, 5-3, 2-0, +38

Manhattan, 4-4, 0-2, -38

Washburn Rural, 5-3, 0-2, -42

The top two teams from each district advance to the state playoffs. Lawrence High, Free State and Topeka High clinched their spots at state with wins last week.


As always, feel free to comment, email me, or find me on Twitter @nightengalejr.

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Football Game Tape: Week Seven

Free State and Lawrence High football teams won their first district game by the same score. Both schools saw a dominant performance by their running back. And both teams weren't satisfied with how they played.

The Firebirds were disappointed that they couldn't hold onto their first shutout since 2012 after a 35-7 victory at Washburn Rural. Senior running back Sam Skwarlo ran for 256 yards and five touchdowns, the most rushing yards in a game by a Free State player since 2011.

Free State's defense only allowed 38 yards in the first half, which includes a harmless 11-yard run by Washburn Rural on the last play of the first half.

“Their defense is extremely physical and very fast,” Washburn Rural coach Steve Buhler told the Topeka Capital Journal. “Them controlling the ball on the ground, and us getting behind seven, then 14 points, you can’t start chucking the ball all game.”

It was the first touchdown allowed by the Firebirds' defense in 10 quarters, starting from the second half against Shawnee Mission East. With a dominant defense, it just puts that much more pressure on opponents to stop Skwarlo and dual-threat quarterback Bryce Torneden.

Lawrence High had four turnovers and still cruised to a 35-7 win against Olathe Northwest, led by 286 yards and four touchdowns by senior running back JD Woods.

In the past three games, Woods has rushed for 768 yards and 14 touchdowns. It's even more impressive when you know opponents are setting up game plans to stop him.

But just as impressive is the performance by Lawrence's defense this season. The Lions have given up just 9.4 points per game and have never allowed more than two touchdowns in one game.

Now for a look ahead to next week:

Olathe North at Lawrence High at 7 p.m. Friday — The Eagles (7-0) split a share of the Sunflower League regular-season championship with the Lions this year. Olathe North lost its first game, 35-33, to Rogers (Ark.) but was awarded the victory because Rogers used an ineligible player. The Eagles are led by dual-threat quarterback Matt Wright, who ran for three touchdowns longer than 50 yards last week and tossed for two more touchdowns. They also have RB Vinnie Shabazz, who is among the league leaders in yards and touchdowns, and WR/FS Isaiah Simmons, who is rated as the No. 3 recruit in Kansas with offers from KU, K-State, Arizona State, Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa, and others.

Manhattan at Free State at 7 p.m. Friday — The Indians (4-3) are on a two-game losing streak after losing in overtime against undefeated Junction City, and struggling to create much offense against undefeated Topeka High. Manhattan is led by junior dual-threat quarterback Ian Trapp, a transfer from Ellsworth. In last week's 41-14 loss to Topeka last week, Trapp ran for 97 yards and a touchdown, and threw for 89 yards and a touchdown. Last week was the first time Manhattan has allowed more than 21 points in a game this season.

Lawrence Free State's Sam Skwarlo stiff arms Washburn Rural's Braeden Ingold to break free Friday.

Lawrence Free State's Sam Skwarlo stiff arms Washburn Rural's Braeden Ingold to break free Friday. by Mike Gunnoe/Special to the Journal-World


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.

Lawrence High football

  1. JD Woods, RB — I don’t think Olathe Northwest defenders will mind if they never have to face Woods again. In the past two seasons, Woods has rushed for 580 yards and seven touchdowns against the Ravens. His latest 286-yard, four-touchdown effort helped him break the school record for career rushing yards, with Woods now at 3,289 yards in his career.

  2. Alan Clothier, QB — The Ravens focused on stopping Woods in the first half, so Clothier took advantage with his legs. Clothier ran for 101 yards in the first two quarters, including a 22-yard scramble for a touchdown in the final minute before halftime.

  3. Amani Bledsoe, DE/RT — With the Lions only leading by seven points at the beginning of the second quarter, the Ravens were in the red zone and at the 14-yard line. Then on 3rd-and-6, Bledsoe zoomed into the backfield for a huge sack. The Ravens missed a field goal on the next play and the LHS offense scored on its next two possessions. Huge momentum swing.

  4. Trey Georgie, DE/LT — Georgie made some big blocks, helping open holes for Woods and Clothier. On defense, he added a couple of tackles around the line of scrimmage.

  5. Price Morgan, LB — Morgan made his presence known early with a tackle on the first play of the game. When the Ravens tried to run on first down, Morgan was there to meet ball carriers at the line of scrimmage.

  6. Ivan Hollins, CB — On the first play of the fourth quarter with Olathe Northwest in the red zone, Hollins picked off a pass, ending a lot of the Ravens’ momentum. Hollins also had some big tackles to stop ONW’s run game and he made some nice blocks near the sidelines for Woods.

  7. Konner Kelley, LB — Kelley gave the Lions a ton of momentum and great field position with an interception ONW’s second drive of the game. He added several tackles throughout the night, chasing down ONW’s running backs.

  8. Nate Koehn, DT — Olathe Northwest only ran for 164 yards on 43 carries (3.81 yards per play), and a big reason was Koehn stuffing runs in the middle of the field. Koehn had a couple of tackles at the line of scrimmage.

  9. Tanner Green, LB — Along with his fellow linebackers, Green was stuffing running lanes throughout the night. He made some big tackles at the line of scrimmage, forcing ONW into long second and third downs.

  10. Santino Gee, SS — He made a couple of tackles, but his biggest play was recovering a surprise onside kick in the third quarter. It was a well-executed play by the Ravens, but Gee made a nice grab in traffic.

    — Next up: Friday vs. Olathe North. Record: 7-0.

Free State football

  1. Sam Skwarlo, RB/LB — In one of the most dominating rushing performances in school history, Skwarlo just couldn’t be stopped. He ran for five touchdowns, including three of more than 50 yards. Skwarlo ran for 256 yards, two yards shy of the single-game school record. He was just as impressive on defense, bottling up Washburn Rural running backs with tackles at the line of scrimmage.

  2. Jay Dineen, LB — The Junior Blues featured one of the top rushing attacks in the Centennial League before Friday. Dineen led the Firebirds with plenty of tackles around the line of scrimmage, holding Washburn Rural to just 90 rushing yards and 124 total yards.

  3. Darian Lewis, DT/TE — On Washburn Rural’s second drive, which started near midfield, Lewis had two straight tackles in the backfield to force a punt. It’s only his first year playing on the defensive line, but it didn’t look like with the way he found ways to get into the backfield.

  4. Bryce Torneden, QB/FS — Washburn Rural focused on stopping Torneden’s running abilities, and if you only judge by the box score, it was a success. Torneden only ran for 29 yards, but he shined in some big moments. On 4th-and-7 before halftime, he scrambled for a 13-yard pickup — which ended with a Skwarlo TD run. He did the same with a 12-yard run during the third quarter on a 3rd-and-11. His only negative was a fumble in the red zone in the first half.

  5. Chase Houk, LT — Free State coaches noticed a tendency on film by Washburn Rural to blitz on the weakside. The Firebirds countered with quick-pitch option plays and Houk made sure they worked like a charm, helping Skwarlo run for two long touchdowns in that direction.

  6. Tanner Liba, RT — The Firebirds finished with 353 rushing yards on 55 carries (6.4 yards per play) and Liba was a big reason for that. He punished defensive linemen with big blocks off of the ball.

  7. Zion Bowlin, FS/RB — Despite playing in the secondary, Bowlin had some big tackles in the backfield or at the line of scrimmage. He also defended well on pass plays and ran for 26 yards at running back.

  8. Paul Bittinger, LB/RB — Bittinger almost looks like Jerome Bettis when he runs the ball, just driving over would-be tacklers. He also played well at linebacker, breaking off blocks to make tackles.

  9. Logan McKinney, CB/WR — Made a nice catch near the sideline to help the Firebirds move near the red zone in the second quarter. He added an interception right before the start of the fourth quarter.

  10. Drew Tochtrop, LB — Along with sophomore linebacker Nathan Spain, Tochtrop provided pass pressure and made key tackles in the run game.

    — Next up: Friday vs. Manhattan. Record: 4-3.

    Lawrence High quarterback Alan Clothier catches a block as lineman Jake Unruh (52) pushes aside Olathe Northwest defensive back Charles Elvin (20) during the third quarter on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015 in Olathe.

    Lawrence High quarterback Alan Clothier catches a block as lineman Jake Unruh (52) pushes aside Olathe Northwest defensive back Charles Elvin (20) during the third quarter on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015 in Olathe. by Nick Krug


Here's quick look at the district standings that Free State and Lawrence High are in:

District 4:

Lawrence High, 7-0, 1-0, +21 point differential

Olathe North, 7-0, 1-0, +21

Olathe Northwest, 5-2, 0-1, -21

Olathe East, 3-4, 0-1, -21

District 5:

Topeka High, 7-0, 1-0, +21

Free State, 4-3, 1-0, +21

Washburn Rural, 5-2, 0-1, -21

Manhattan, 4-3, 0-1, -21

The top two teams from each district advance to the state playoffs.


As always, feel free to comment, email me, or find me on Twitter @nightengalejr.

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Football Game Tape: Week Six

In the final week before district play, Lawrence High and Free State football teams saved some of their best football for last and both schools cruised to blowout victories.

The Lions jumped to another quick start with a touchdown run from JD Woods on the first play from scrimmage and rolled to a 63-7 victory against Olathe South, with Woods accounting for 225 yards and six touchdowns.

With the victory, the Lions (6-0) won a share of the Sunflower League title for the first time since 1993 and own their first undefeated record heading into district play in the last 22 seasons.

In the Lions' last three games, they've allowed a combined 19 points with stout run defense and strong secondary.

Free State's football team played dominant defense and scored on its first four possessions on its way to a 56-6 rout over Shawnee Mission South.

It's hard to believe this team started 0-3 this season with the way the Firebirds have played during their three-game winning streak. Their defense only allowed 35 yards and three first downs in the first half last week.

The Firebirds (3-3) own the worst record in their district, but might be the most dangerous team with the way they've played.

Now for a look ahead to next week:

Lawrence High at Olathe Northwest on Thursday at 7 p.m. at CBAC — The Ravens (5-1) will be the first team to play the Lions with a record over .500 this season. With the exception of their loss to SM West, the Ravens haven't played any teams with winning records, either. ONW is led by running backs Brendan Watkins (573 yards and 8 TD this season), Darius Henderson and Ashton Avery, WR Kyle Rinck and QB Easton Crupper, who has tossed for more than 450 yards and six touchdowns.

Free State at Washburn Rural on Friday at 7 p.m. — The Junior Blues (5-1) suffered their only loss two weeks ago against Junction City. They are led by senior running back Matthew Williams, who ranked second in the Topeka area in rushing yards (567) and fourth with nine touchdowns, as of last week. Washburn Rural also features RB Hunter Browning and QB Mitchell Schurig.

LHS senior JD Woods (11) looks for running room in a 63-7 victory over Olathe South on Friday, Oct. 9, 2015, at LHS.

LHS senior JD Woods (11) looks for running room in a 63-7 victory over Olathe South on Friday, Oct. 9, 2015, at LHS. by Richard Gwin


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. Last week, I was at Free State and Chris Duderstadt covered Lawrence High.

Lawrence High football

  1. JD Woods, RB — After 225 rushing yards and touchdowns against Olathe South, Woods eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark with 1,005 through six games. For the third time this season, Woods found the end zone on the first play from scrimmage. He has 22 total touchdowns – 21 on the ground and one through the air – going into district play.

  2. Alan Clothier, QB — Woods did the bulk of the damage offensively, but Clothier was efficient in the passing and running game. Clothier completed 7-of-9 passes for 135 yards, and wasn’t afraid to air it out with throws of 30-plus yards to tight ends Price Morgan and Konner Kelley. The dual-threat quarterback also carried it for 68 yards on nine attempts.

  3. Amani Bledsoe, DE/RT — Bledsoe took advantage of Olathe South’s undersized offensive and defensive lines, clearing the way for Woods and stuffing opposing running back DaeVonte’ Nance and anyone else in his way in the OS backfield. Bledsoe had one sack of Olathe South quarterback Andras Glenn for an 11-yard loss. Fellow linemen Trey Georgie, Jacob Unruh, Nathan Koehn could easily go in this spot as well.

  4. Peter Afful, RB — Afful made a key block to spring Woods free for a 48-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. Afful’s energy affected the game on special teams, too. The Falcons had a hard time handling a squib kick, and Afful hustled down field to recover the fumble and set the Lions up for a short scoring drive.

  5. Konner Kelley, LB/TE — After the JD Woods show took a brief intermission in the second quarter (he had four touchdowns in the first 14 minutes), Clothier caught the Falcons off guard as he found Kelley over the middle for a 35-yard touchdown reception. Kelley and the Lions’ linebacking corp played a big role in keeping Nance in check, limiting him to 40 yards from scrimmage after rushing for 245 against the Lions in 2014.

  6. Price Morgan, LB/TE — The Lions did not need Morgan to make many big plays at tight end or linebacker after they took control early, but he did anyway. On one of the few times that Clothier was forced out of the pocket, he threw the ball deep to Morgan, and the LHS tight end used his 6-4, 210-pound frame to get up and make the grab for 31 yards at the OS 20-yard line. Like Bledsoe, Morgan also came through the Falcons’ offensive line unblocked with a chance to sack Glenn for a double digit loss. Glenn was able to throw the ball away, but Morgan made him pay for it.

  7. Cole/Ross Brungardt, K — The Brungardt brothers combined to make all nine PATs – Cole with six and Ross with three. Kickers at the college and professional level have struggled this year from short distances, so going 9-for-9 from 20 yards isn’t exactly a given these days.

  8. Dante' Jackson, RB — Jackson didn’t get many chances in the punt or kick return games since the Falcons kicked it away from the speedster. While Jackson didn’t have many return yards to show for, OS punter Ben Smith gave the Lions good field position for most of the night on short punts out of bounds. Jackson did get a chance to turn on the after-burners on a 41-yard screen pass.

  9. James Reeder, RB — Woods, Bledsoe and LHS coach Dirk Wedd all commended Reeder and fellow backup running back Hunter Krom for not only making the most of their time on the field against the Falcons, but their work in practice to prepare the Lions’ starters each week. Reeder came in after Woods’ night was done and rushed for 47 yards and a touchdown on five carries.

  10. Hunter Krom, RB — Much like Reeder, Krom battled hard for yards with the game well in hand. Krom shed multiple Falcons’ defenders on his way to a 15-yard touchdown run.

    — Next up: Thursday at Olathe Northwest (at CBAC). Record: 6-0.

Free State football

  1. Sam Skwarlo, RB/LB — Skwarlo finished with 118 rushing yards and two touchdowns — with all but seven yards coming in the first quarter. He broke loose for a 52-yard score and a 23-yard touchdown run. He also played well at linebacker, making two straight tackles in the backfield on the Raiders’ second possession.

  2. Bryce Torneden, QB/S — Didn’t matter if Torneden was running or throwing, he was making big plays. He had 74 rushing yards and a touchdown, and tossed for two touchdowns and 170 yards — all in the first half. He also made a couple of plays around the line of scrimmage on defense.

  3. Zack Sanders, WR — When teams play with two-high safeties, Sanders takes advantage with post routes over the middle of the field. He had a 49-yard touchdown reception on Free State’s first possession. In the third quarter, he opened with a 36-yard punt-return touchdown, running past would-be tacklers.

  4. Chase Houk, LT — Running to the left side of the offensive line was effective for the Firebirds, going for 45 yards on the first four attempts that way. Houk was a big reason with big blocks and a number of pancakes against some smaller defensive linemen.

  5. Bo Miller, LB — Along with his fellow linebackers, Miller was making tackles all over the field, including a nice tackle on a SM South punt return. In the second quarter, Miller combined on a sack with Darian Lewis, forcing a three-and-out.

  6. Zion Bowlin, RB/S — You could tell Bowlin wasn’t quite right at the beginning of the season, running on an injured ankle. Not anymore. Bowlin finished with 32 yards and a touchdown on five carries, and made some nice tackles around the line of scrimmage on defense. He nearly grabbed an interception, too.

  7. Jack Flynn, WR — Who knew golfers could also score touchdowns? Flynn caught a pass near the Free State sideline, shook a tackler and ran 70 yards for his first varsity touchdown reception.

  8. David Johnson, LB — I don’t know how many varsity snaps he’s taken this season, but he made the most of them on Friday, scooping up a fumble and running it back 26 yards into the end zone.

  9. Kameron Lake, K — The freshman kicker is on a roll in the past two weeks. He tied a school record last week with eight successful extra points, set by Nate Vail in 1999.

  10. Peter Rupnicki, DB — The Firebirds’ offense set the tone on offense with a touchdown on their first drive. Defensively, the 5-foot-6 Rupnicki set the tone with a huge hit on the first SM South kick return.

    Honorable mention: Garrett Swisher — Congratulations to the homecoming king, who made a grand entrance at halftime by running out the locker room to the middle of the field when his name was called.

    — Next up: Friday at Washburn Rural. Record: 3-3.

    Free State junior receiver Zack Sanders (11) pulls down a reception in traffic during the Firebirds' game against Shawnee Mission South Friday evening at FSHS.

    Free State junior receiver Zack Sanders (11) pulls down a reception in traffic during the Firebirds' game against Shawnee Mission South Friday evening at FSHS. by John Young


Here's quick look at the district standings that Free State and Lawrence High are in:

District 4:

Lawrence High, 6-0, 0-0

Olathe North, 6-0*, 0-0 (lost to Rogers-Heritage (Arkansas) in Week 1, but Rogers-Heritage later forfeited the game because of an ineligible player.)

Olathe Northwest, 5-1, 0-0

Olathe East, 3-3, 0-0

District 5:

Topeka High, 6-0, 0-0

Washburn Rural, 5-1, 0-0

Manhattan, 4-2, 0-0

Free State, 3-3, 0-0


As always, feel free to comment, email me, or find me on Twitter @nightengalejr.

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Football Game Tape: Week Five

Free State High football players warned everybody that they were a lot better than their record showed this season and they had a lot of confidence heading into Friday's game against Shawnee Mission East, the defending state champions.

Message received, loud and clear. The Firebirds upset the Lancers, 32-20, knocking off the top-ranked team in the state.

Most teams have trouble stopping SM East's flexbone offense because it's so fast and nobody else in the Sunflower League runs it, so most teams are pretty unfamiliar with it until game week.

One way to stop SM East's offense is by not giving the Lancers the ball. The Firebirds ran the ball with authority, rushing for 334 yards on 58 carries, bleeding out the clock. Credit the Firebirds, who had so many new linemen to begin the season, proving they aren't quite new and inexperienced anymore.

“(Free State) played outstanding,” SM East coach Dustin Delaney told the KC Star. “Their skill kids are really good and they played in space. They did it all night — outplayed us and outcoached us. They deserve to have a nice win like they did.”

Lawrence High's football team took care of business in a 42-6 victory over SM South last Friday. Senior running back JD Woods ran for 257 yards and four touchdowns on 12 carries (21.4 yards per attempt) to lead the LHS offense.

Defensively, the Lions held the Raiders to just 18 total yards in the first half with strong performances by all of their defensive linemen.

The Lions haven't played the toughest schedule but it's impressive how much they've dominated in the first half of games, never allowing themselves an off night. With the exception of their 14-12 win over Free State, the Lions own a 118-6 scoring advantage in the first halves of games this year.

With the loss of SM East — and Blue Valley lost by one point to BV North in a wild finish — the Lions are ranked #1 in the state in most polls (the coaches' poll usually comes out later in the week). But perhaps even bigger than that, if the Lions win this week, they will be guaranteed a share of the Sunflower League title for the first time since 1993. Only the first six games count in the league standings because district play begins the week afterward.

Now for a look ahead to next week:

Olathe South at Lawrence High on Friday at 7 p.m. — The Falcons (1-4) have played a tough schedule this season but have struggled offensively, scoring only 49 points this season. In last week's 46-7 loss to SM West, backup RB Ben Smith ran in a 6-yard TD in the fourth quarter. The Falcons also have an explosive kick returner with Jamison Phelps and a shifty running back in DaeVonte Nance, who ran for 245 yards against LHS last season.

Shawnee Mission South vs. Free State on Friday at 7 p.m. — Friday will mark the return of SM South coach Brett Oberzan, who was an assistant at Free State for 11 seasons as a defensive coordinator and wide receivers coach. The Raiders (0-5) are clearly in rebuilding mode with some undersized linemen. They've only scored 34 points this season. Against LHS last week, they struggled to run the ball until Kyheim Matthews ran for a 58-yard TD on the game's final play.

Lawrence High's Jams Murry (66), Santino Gee (25) and Price Morgan (81) work to bring down Shawnee Mission South junior Cam Union (1)  during their game Friday night at LHS. The Lions won, 42-6, and improved their record to 5-0 on the season.

Lawrence High's Jams Murry (66), Santino Gee (25) and Price Morgan (81) work to bring down Shawnee Mission South junior Cam Union (1) during their game Friday night at LHS. The Lions won, 42-6, and improved their record to 5-0 on the season. by John Young


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 Lawrence High and Benton Smith covered Free State last week.

Lawrence High football

  1. JD Woods, RB — Set the tone on the very first play with a 70-yard touchdown and never slowed down. Woods finished with 257 yards and four touchdowns on only 12 attempts, a ridiculous 21.4 yards per carry. He’s now up to 780 rushing yards, 10 away from Olathe North’s Vinnie Shabazz for the league lead.

  2. Konner Kelley, LB — Huge day for the 6-foot-1, 185-pound senior, who was constantly in the backfield. I had him down for three tackles for loss, including a four-yard loss on SM South’s first possession when the Raiders were at midfield.

  3. Amani Bledsoe, DE/RT — Another strong game from Bledsoe, who recorded a sack in the first quarter and essentially forced a fumble in the third quarter. He also had some big blocks on the offensive line, using his size and strength to frustrate SM South linemen.

  4. Trey Georgie, DE/LT — Along with Bledsoe, Georgie had a big game on the defensive line. He had at least four tackles in the backfield and was just too much for the Raiders’ linemen when using his 6-foot-5, 260-pound frame. Woods also credited Georgie with strong blocking on his first touchdown run.

  5. Jake Unruh, DT/LG — Unruh caused havoc in the backfield, going through gaps to make tackles at the line of scrimmage, including one stop where he lost his helmet. He added a sack before halftime when the Raiders were at midfield.

  6. Nate Koehn, DL — The Raiders only had 51 rushing yards on 42 attempts before their touchdown on the game’s final play. A big reason was Koehn, who blew up plays at the line of scrimmage. He added a sack on the SM South’s first possession.

  7. Price Morgan, LB/TE — With the Lions’ defensive line playing so well, Morgan didn’t make as many tackles as usual — nor did he need to. He combined with Koehn for a sack on SM South’s first possession and plugged up gaps on run plays. He also had two catches for 37 yards at tight end.

  8. Tanner Green, LB/TE — Similar to Morgan, you didn’t hear his name as much as usual because of how well the defensive line was playing. He made a tackle for a four-yard loss on the last play of the first half, then made a couple more stops in the backfield in the third quarter.

  9. Alan Clothier, QB — The Lions didn’t need to air the ball out much with their success on the ground, but Clothier turned in another strong performance. He was 6-of-7 for 61 yards, hitting some receivers in stride. He also ran in a one-yard touchdown on a QB sneak.

  10. J’Mony Bryant, DB/WR — Along with strong blocking on a couple of long runs by Woods, Bryant played well at defensive back, making tackles at the line of scrimmage or in the backfield. Twice the Raiders ran option plays to his side and both times Bryant drilled the running back for a loss.

    Honorable Mention: Ivan Hollins, CB/WR — Winning on and off the field, congratulations to the LHS homecoming king.

    — Next up: Friday vs. Olathe South. Record: 5-0.

Free State football

  1. Sam Skwarlo — The senior running back’s legs looked stronger as the game went on, and his 172-yard, three-touchdown performance played a crucial role in Free State’s upset road win.

  2. Bryce Torneden — The senior quarterback didn’t have a bad first half throwing the ball (4-for-8 for 54 yards) but the game plan called for a run-only second half and Torneden did plenty of that, finishing with 134 rushing yards and a TD.

  3. Jay Dineen — The fiery junior linebacker seemed to show up near the ball carrier every time the deceptive SME offense ran the ball in the second half.

  4. Kameron Lake — A freshman kicker, Lake’s leg gave FSHS a huge boost, and a lead, just before halftime with a 28-yard field goal. In the In the fourth quarter, his 33-yard field goal made him the first Firebird in program history to make two in a game.

  5. Drew Wise — The 6-foot-1, 220-pound junior linebacker looked massive every time he got to one of the SME skill players and his hits and size had to wear down the Lancers’ batch of play-makers. Also stymied a SME 2-point conversion with a tackle.

  6. Sam Hambleton — The junior defensive lineman helped Free State fight at the line of scrimmage all night, and came up with the first key play of the night, a fumble recovery on East’s first drive of the game.

  7. Zion Bowlin — When Skwarlo and Torneden weren’t carrying the offensive load, the junior running back filled in nicely and provided a change of pace. Ran for 28 yards as FSHS kept its ground game rolling.

  8. Logan McKinney — The 6-foot-4 wide receiver proved productive in the first half, when the Firebirds let the Lancers know they were in for a fight. McKinney caught three passes for 45 yards. His 20-yard grab to open the second quarter set up Free State’s first lead.

  9. Drew Tochtrop — Along with his solid play at linebacker, Tochtrop came up with a massive punt early in the third quarter that helped take the sting out of a FSHS three-and-out. His 54-yard kick dribbled down inside the SME 5-yard line, and the Lancers would have to punt instead of going for it on their next fourth down, due to the field position.

  10. Noah Kema — The junior defensive lineman was in on one of the biggest defensive stops of the game for FSHS. With just more than five minutes left, Kema, Skwarlo and Dineen converged on SME running back Wyatt Edmisten and held him to a two-yard gain on fourth-and-four.

    — Next up: Friday vs. SM South. Record: 2-3.

    Sam Skwarlo goes wide outside for yards in the first half as Free State played Shawnee Mission East Friday in Overland Park. The Firebirds won, 32-20.

    Sam Skwarlo goes wide outside for yards in the first half as Free State played Shawnee Mission East Friday in Overland Park. The Firebirds won, 32-20. by Kevin Anderson/Special to the Journal-World


It's the last week of Sunflower League play before districts begin — the final year of the district format. Here's quick look at the districts that Free State and Lawrence High will be playing in:

District 4:

Lawrence High, 5-0

Olathe North, 5-0* (lost to Rogers-Heritage (Arkansas) in Week 1, but Rogers-Heritage later forfeited the game because of an ineligible player.)

Olathe Northwest, 4-1

Olathe East, 3-2

District 5:

Topeka High, 5-0

Manhattan, 4-1

Washburn Rural, 4-1

Free State, 2-3


As always, feel free to comment, email me, or find me on Twitter @nightengalejr.

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Football Game Tape: Week Four

One week after Lawrence High and Free State football teams beat up on each other in the City Showdown, they unleashed on other teams this weekend.

Both schools won in blowouts with strong defensive nights. Lawrence High (4-0) went through the air to open up its offense in a 41-6 victory over Shawnee Mission Northwest. The Lions scored on their first three offensive possessions and took the starters out of the game by the end of the third quarter.

Everyone knew the Lions would have a strong defense this season with such an experienced front seven, and they haven't disappointed. The Lions have allowed just 11.5 points per game, which includes a couple of touchdowns allowed in garbage time.

The Firebirds (1-3) finally earned their first win of the season, defeating Leavenworth, 43-7. Bryce Torneden ran for three touchdowns and tossed for another as they pulled away in the second half.

It was a much-needed victory for the Firebirds. They kept their confidence throughout their three-game losing streak but they finally have something to show for all of their hard work this season. Unfortunately, they can't celebrate for long because they'll be going on the road to play the No. 1 team in the state this week.

Now for a look ahead to next week:

Shawnee Mission South at Lawrence High on Friday at 7 p.m. — The Raiders (0-4) are in rebuilding mode under new coach Brett Oberzan (a longtime Free State assistant). They've only scored 28 points this season and have struggled at times to stop opposing offenses. In a 47-13 loss to Olathe North last week, the Raiders scored on an 84-yard kickoff return from Ciaron Willis and an eight-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Dubinski from quarterback Zach McQueen.

Free State at Shawnee Mission East on Friday at 7 p.m. (at SM North District Stadium) — Remember when the Firebirds had to play three tough teams in the first three weeks of the season? Well it doesn't get any easier against the Lancers (4-0), the top-ranked team in the state and defending Class 6A defending state champions. SM East has scored at least 40 points in each game this year and won each game by at least 21 points. The Lancers feature a solid rushing attack with their flexbone offense, led by Wyatt Edmisten, Jack Tyler, Karl Young and quarterback Luke Kaiser.


Free State senior running back Sam Skwarlo (5) breaks through the Leavenworth defense on his way to a 60 yard first quarter touchdown during their football game Friday night in Leavenworth.

Free State senior running back Sam Skwarlo (5) breaks through the Leavenworth defense on his way to a 60 yard first quarter touchdown during their football game Friday night in Leavenworth. by John Young


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.

Lawrence High football

  1. Price Morgan, LB/TE — At linebacker, Morgan made several tackles, including a few for loss. On one SMNW possession in the third quarter, Morgan broke up a pass with a monster hit on first down; helped stuff a run at the line of scrimmage on second down; then made an immediate tackle on a short pass on third down to force a punt. At tight end, he made three catches for 52 yards and a touchdown.

  2. JD Woods, RB/CB — Woods stepped up on both sides of the ball Thursday. He ran for 96 yards and two touchdowns, and broke up a potential touchdown pass in the third quarter at cornerback. On the first drive, Woods set the tone with six attempts for 40 yards and a seven-yard touchdown run.

  3. Alan Clothier, QB — With defenses focused on stopping Woods, Clothier is starting to make teams pay with his arm. He was 11-for-12 for 147 yards and two touchdowns on Thursday — and the lone incompletion was when receiver Luke Padia just missed keeping his foot inbounds on a Hail Mary before halftime. Clothier's passing only makes the offense that much more dangerous.

  4. Amani Bledsoe, DE — Another dominant performance by the 6-foot-5 defensive end. Bledsoe forced a punt with a tackle in the backfield on SMNW’s first drive of the game. During the Cougars’ next possession, he made a stop at the line of scrimmage and blocked his second punt of the season, which led to a touchdown by Erik Shackelford. He also added a sack in the first half.

  5. Konner Kelley, LB/TE — Kelley was flying around everywhere on Thursday. Didn’t matter if was applying pass pressure, making a tackle in the backfield or running down ball carriers downfield. He added a 23-yard catch at tight end.

  6. Tanner Green, LB — Like Morgan and Kelley, Green was everywhere on the field — “heat-seeking missiles,” LHS coach Dirk Wedd called them. He had a few tackles at the line of scrimmage and provided pass pressure on blitzes.

  7. Dante Jackson, CB/RB — The electric sophomore just knows how to make plays. In the first quarter, he converted a 3rd-and-11 with an 18-yard run, then scored a 17-yard touchdown on a bubble screen just five plays later. In the second quarter, at cornerback, he knocked away a pass in the end zone, saving a touchdown.

  8. Trey Moore, RB — “Big Play Trey” Moore ran the ball six times and five of those attempts went for at least 12 yards. His shortest rush was for eight yards, however, he didn’t return to the game after taking a hit in the third quarter.

  9. Trey Georgie, DE — On the first SMNW possession of the third quarter, Georgie had a key sack on third down, forcing a fourth-and-long. He finished with two sacks.

  10. James Reeder, RB/DB — It didn’t matter what the score was in the second half. Reeder was ready to ball out. He ran for a 27-yard touchdown on his first carry and grabbed an interception in the fourth quarter to keep the Cougars from scoring late.

    — Next up: Friday vs. SM South. Record: 4-0.

Free State football

  1. Bryce Torneden, QB/FS — It’s not like opposing teams are surprised by Torneden. They know his abilities and still have a lot of trouble stopping him. He ran for three touchdowns and 56 yards, and threw for another 161 yards and a touchdown. It’s impressive how many times it looks like he will be stuffed in the backfield and he finds a way to make a nice gain out of it. He also played well in the secondary, breaking up passes and making solo tackles in space.

  2. Sam Skwarlo, RB/LB — With the offense struggling to do much in the first quarter, Skwarlo ran for 75 yards — including a 60-yard TD run — on three carries during his team’s third possession. As usual, he made several tackles at the line of scrimmage and had his name called out a lot by the public-address announcer.

  3. Jay Dineen, LB — I had Dineen down for at least three tackles in the backfield on Friday. For most of the night he was patient and closed up running lanes. His only truly negative play was jumping offsides when LV was going to punt in the first quarter.

  4. Drew Tochtrop, WR/LB — With Paul Bittinger out with an injury, Tochtrop did a good job stepping up and helping fill that void. He kept Leavenworth’s RBs inside the tackles, allowing his teammates to make tackles while he kept contain. He also made a nice 56-yard touchdown catch on a slant route in the first quarter.

  5. Zack Sanders, WR/CB — I had a feeling that Sanders would come back with a big game, and he did exactly that. He caught three passes for 34 yards, ran for another 11 yards and had strong coverage in the secondary. He also did a nice job making tackles to stop Leavenworth’s run game.

  6. Jack Flynn, WR/CB — Flynn played well with two catches for 23 yards, a six-yard run on a sweep, some nice downfield blocks and a couple of tackles. His only negative was leaving the game with an ankle/foot injury.

  7. Logan McKinney, WR — Right before halftime, McKinney caught a 43-yard pass to the one-yard line, setting up a one-yard touchdown run by Torneden. He also played well in pass coverage.

  8. Sam Hambleton, DL/OL — Hambleton had a couple of nice tackles at the line of scrimmage on run plays, but his biggest play was recovering a fumble when a Leavenworth punt returner muffed a catch. Hambleton’s recovery directly led to three points.

  9. Kameron Lake, K — The Firebirds had problems with their kicking game all season, which makes Lake’s contributions so critical. They’re hoping he can be the answer after drilling a 29-yard field goal and four extra points.

  10. Gage Foster, QB — A lot of people will remember Foster running down the field on the last drive, accumulating 65 yards and finishing with a 14-yard touchdown run. His opponents will remember him launching up for a big hit in the fourth quarter, making a tackle on a short run and sending the LV RB to the turf.

    — Next up: Friday at SM East. Record: 1-3.

    LHS quarterback Alan Clothier gets a quick pass to the air early in the first half in the Lions' 41-6 victory over SM Northwest on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, in Overland Park.

    LHS quarterback Alan Clothier gets a quick pass to the air early in the first half in the Lions' 41-6 victory over SM Northwest on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, in Overland Park.


As always, feel free to comment, email me, or find me on Twitter @nightengalejr.

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Football Game Tape: Week Three

In a game that had more twists and turns than most roller coasters, Friday's football City Showdown lived up to the hype, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

Both schools had opportunities to win the game, but Lawrence High made some big defensive plays in the fourth quarter and held on for a 14-12 victory at FSHS, ending a three-year losing streak to Free State.

Helped by the old-school mentality of players going both ways, the Lions saw plenty of big plays made by their top players. Now on their first three-game winning streak since 2012, it'll be interesting to see how the Lions use this momentum for the next few weeks.

The Firebirds dropped to 0-3, opening the season with three straight losses for the first time since 2004. That's the result of a few mistakes that cost them some victories and one of the toughest schedules in the state. Free State's opponents have a combined 11-1 record this season.

Free State needed a couple of games to adjust to playing in its new defensive scheme and it looked great on Friday. The Firebirds gave up one long touchdown drive and the other touchdown came on a short field after a fumbled snap on a punt.

FSHS coach Bob Lisher told his team afterward, "Don't be down." He's right. The loss stings but the Firebirds made big strides against a veteran LHS squad.

Now for a look ahead to next week:

Lawrence High at Shawnee Mission Northwest on Thursday at 7 p.m. (at SM North District Stadium) — The Cougars (1-2) have lost to two of the top ranked teams in the state, SM East and Blue Valley, but feature a strong passing game with quarterback Ron Kopp and receiver Gerrit Prince. They struggle on defense where they've allowed 135 points this year (45 per game).

Free State at Leavenworth on Friday at 7 p.m. — Both the Firebirds and the Pioneers (0-3) will be looking for their first win of the season. Leavenworth was crushed by Lawrence High in Week Two and lost to Olathe Northwest, 30-7, last week. Against Lawrence High, the Pioneers didn't record any passing yards while running back Wade Jackson led with 108 yards and a touchdown on the ground.

Lawrence High defensive lineman Amani Bledsoe (72) comes around to wrap up Free State quarterback Bryce Torneden (1) for a sack during the first half on Friday, Sept. 17, 2015 at Free State High School.

Lawrence High defensive lineman Amani Bledsoe (72) comes around to wrap up Free State quarterback Bryce Torneden (1) for a sack during the first half on Friday, Sept. 17, 2015 at Free State High School. by Nick Krug


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.

Lawrence High football

  1. Amani Bledsoe, sr. DE/RT — There’s just something about the City Showdown that brings out the best in Bledsoe. Doing his best J.J. Watt impersonation, Bledsoe was constantly in the backfield blowing up plays. I had him credited with five tackles in the backfield, one sack, and a few pass pressures. During one FSHS possession in the second quarter, he helped blow up a play for a three-yard loss on first down, made a tackle on the next play for a four-yard loss, then would’ve forced another three-yard loss on the next play if he wasn’t called for a face mask penalty.

  2. Price Morgan, sr. LB/TE — Morgan was flying around to the field to make tackles and he proved why he’s one of the Sunflower League’s best linebackers. On the last FSHS drive of the first half, he made three tackles in a four-play stretch. I had him down for eight tackles in which the Firebirds gained three yards or less on the play.

  3. JD Woods, sr. RB — Woods might be the only running back in the state who could be “contained” for 142 yards and two scores. The Firebirds did a good job preventing him from breaking off any long runs, but Woods was strong in the second half. He nearly put the game away with a 34-yard run to the six-yard line late in the fourth quarter before a fumbled snap gave the ball back to Free State.

  4. Dante' Jackson, soph. CB — On Free State’s final drive, the Firebirds threw at Jackson seven times, including five straight pass attempts. Those seven plays turned into three completions for 28 yards. Credit Jackson for stepping up in the biggest moments of the game and the LHS coaches for trusting him and not changing their defensive scheme.

  5. Tanner Green, sr. LB — Along with Morgan, Green was everywhere chasing down ball carriers. The impressive thing about Green is his ability to make plays at the line of scrimmage and chase down runners down the field.

  6. Ivan Hollins, sr. CB — With the game on the line, Hollins knocked away a pass in the final 20 seconds to secure the LHS victory. He broke up two other passes and only allowed one big completion — a 31-yard catch by Logan McKinney on the last drive.

  7. Trey Georgie, sr. DE/LT — On the opposite side of the defensive line as Bledsoe, Georgie provided strong pressure on pass plays and had a couple of tackles at the line of scrimmage. His biggest play was diving on a bad snap on a Free State punt, setting up the first LHS touchdown.

  8. Alan Clothier, sr. QB — Clothier finished with 17 passing yards and 23 rushing yards, but he nearly sealed the game with 3:46 left in the fourth quarter with a beautiful throw to Morgan for a 15-yard pickup on 3rd-and-12. His only negative was a fumbled snap three plays later that kept the Lions from putting more points on the scoreboard.

  9. Trey Moore, jr. RB — With the Firebirds focused on stopping Woods, Moore took advantage in the second half, setting up a LHS touchdown. Moore finished with 61 yards on eight carries, including 58 yards on the touchdown drive. He also had a catch for two yards.

  10. Nate Koehn, sr. DT — LHS coach Dirk Wedd said prior to the City Showdown that Koehn is tough to handle for offensive lines when he’s playing at his best. Koehn was wrecking havoc in the middle of the field, making it tough for the Firebirds to run in the middle of the field.

    — Next up: Thursday at SM Northwest. Record: 3-0.

Free State football

  1. Bryce Torneden, sr. QB/S — Despite heavy pressure from Lawrence’s defensive line, Torneden frequently turned nothing into something. He finished with 135 rushing yards and a touchdown, and 106 passing yards. His touchdown in the middle of the fourth quarter was an all-heart drive, which included a 30-yard run on a 4th-and-2. At safety, he made plays all over the field and rarely missed on tackles.

  2. Jay Dineen, jr. LB — He looked like the best player on the field in the first quarter with some big defensive stops. In one series, Dineen made a tackle in the backfield for a seven-yard loss then snuffed out a screen pass for a tackle at the line of scrimmage. Switching jersey numbers to help out on the offensive line, Dineen made his presence felt often with tackles near the line of scrimmage.

  3. Sam Skwarlo, sr. RB/LB — Along with Dineen, Skwarlo had some dominant stretches at linebacker. When the Lions were in the red zone in the first quarter, Skwarlo helped push them back with a tackle for a 13-yard loss. On the next offensive possession, Skwarlo had two big runs, including 31-yard touchdown. He finished with 54 yards on nine carries.

  4. Paul Bittinger, sr. LB — Bittinger made some big tackles but his biggest play was grabbing a fumbled snap late in the fourth quarter with the Firebirds backed near their own goal line. Along with a few tackles, he ran for a first down on a fake punt in the third quarter.

  5. Zack Sanders, jr. CB/WR — Similar to Skwarlo last week, it’s a shame that his game will be remembered by one mistake at the end of the game — a dropped pass when he beat a cornerback by a step or two. He was strong in coverage at cornerback, forcing two incompletions in the first half. At receiver, he led the team with 44 yards on five receptions.

  6. Darian Lewis, sr. DL — Lewis had a big role in trying to slow down Lawrence’s running backs. He had a few tackles at the line of scrimmage or in the backfield, helping blow up plays. He also showed his speed with a couple of tackles downfield.

  7. Logan McKinney, sr. WR — McKinney gave his team a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter with a huge catch with two defensive backs draped over him. His 31-yard reception put the Firebirds in the red zone with 32 seconds left.

  8. Drew Tochtrop, sr. LB — Tochtrop was huge at linebacker during Lawrence’s first series in the second half. He made three tackles at the line of scrimmage, helping the Firebirds get the ball back after a turnover on downs.

  9. Jack Flynn, sr. DB/WR — Flynn nearly grabbed an interception in the first quarter and made a nice tackle on third down in the second quarter, helping the Firebirds get the ball back. On offense, Flynn had two catches for 17 yards.

  10. Bo Miller, soph. LB — Along with his fellow linebackers, Miller did a nice job of slowing down Lawrence’s run game. He made a solo tackle near the line of scrimmage at midfield at the end of the third quarter.

    — Next up: Friday at Leavenworth. Record: 0-3.

    Free State running back Sam Skwarlo (5) shrugs off Lawrence High defenders Ivan Hollins (5) and defensive back Dante Jackson (32) on his way in for a touchdown during the first half on Friday, Sept. 17, 2015 at Free State High School.

    Free State running back Sam Skwarlo (5) shrugs off Lawrence High defenders Ivan Hollins (5) and defensive back Dante Jackson (32) on his way in for a touchdown during the first half on Friday, Sept. 17, 2015 at Free State High School. by Nick Krug


As always, feel free to comment, email me, or find me on Twitter @nightengalejr.

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