Posts tagged with Football

Summer football observations and video

There's still a few months before the start of football seasons for Lawrence High and Free State, but both schools have have been going full-speed ahead at team camps over the past week.

The two schools spent two days at the Kansas University team camp last week, along with about 15 other teams around the area. On Thursday and Tuesday, they 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 camp on Tuesday. Here's some of the things that caught my eye at Tuesday's camp, starting with the Firebirds:

Senior quarterback Bryce Torneden looks sharp with a year of experience. In the video below, you can see his strong cut on the 2nd play and he made some good decisions on his throws. He tossed for 1,064 yards last year and ran for another 1,277, combining for 25 touchdowns. He looks further along than he did during the summer last year. His only negative moment was when he had to sit briefly with a quad injury when he made a play on defense, flying in for a stop from safety.

"It's definitely helped having a season under (me)," Torneden said. "We have a lot of returners except for that line. We just have to build them up."

"It's mostly coaching," Torneden added of the line. "Just getting more experience. We've got Tanner (Liba) coming back. I think we'll be fine."

The Firebirds have a lot of potential in the backfield. It's great to see senior Sam Skwarlo back on the field after he suffered a season-ending injury (Lisfranc in left foot) in the season-opener last year. Skwarlo looked like he was running at full speed on Tuesday at both running back and linebacker. Add junior Zion Bowlin to the mix and Free State has two runners with a great mix of speed and strength in the backfield.

The biggest question for the Firebirds is the offensive line. They lost four starters from last year, including first-team All-Sunflower League left tackle Scott Frantz. But senior Tanner Liba, who started at right tackle last year, is confident of the progress they've made during the team camps. Liba noted how well Garrett Swisher and Chase Houk have looked in the past week.

"Pretty much as line, we just need to see what we need to work on," said Liba when asked how team camps help linemen. "How much harder we need to get off the ball. Just stuff like that.

"So far, I think we're looking pretty good. I think that we can build up to where we were last year, especially with our first week of camp and we still have a whole summer ahead of us."

It's also interesting to see how the Firebirds are rebuilding the defensive line without first-team All-league selection Shane Hofer. Senior Jalen Galloway returns at end, but they've added Darian Lewis to the mix on the line. Both Galloway and Lewis are athletic enough to make up for any size disadvantage.

The one group that caught some of the coaches' ire was linebackers. They had a few missed assignments, which is to be expected for this stage of the season. But they will be held to a high standard this season, returning so many players from last year, including Skwarlo, Bowlin, seniors Drew Tochtrop and Paul Bittenger and junior Jay Dineen.

Now for thoughts on Lawrence High:

After strong seasons in track, running backs JD Woods and Trey Moore look as elusive as ever. The self-proclaimed duo "Smash and dash" will have pretty high expectations this season. Woods returns after leading the Sunflower League in rushing last year with 1,667 yards, adding 20 touchdowns. They looked strong in read-options, making good cuts and showing their big-play capabilities on Tuesday.

The defense has a ton of returning starters, but it will be led by its linemen. Seniors Amani Bledsoe and Trey Georgie look bigger and stronger after an offseason in the weight room, drawing rave reviews from their teammates.

"Oh man, it’s awesome,'" said senior Peter Afful, who has been getting some reps on the defensive line, along with playing some H-back on offense. "When I’m looking at the D-line, I’m just like, ‘Wow.’ I’m happy I get to play behind these big guys, you know. It’s really nice."

How helpful are the team camps for the LHS defensive line?

"I think practicing against ourselves, we know the plays pretty much," Georgie said. "And some people might go easy because we’re a team. But here, we don’t know the kids and we’re just here to play football."

Speaking of the defense, seniors Price Morgan and Tanner Green shined at linebacker on Tuesday. As they've shown over the last two seasons, they have a knack for finding the football and using their speed to get to wherever they need to on the field. Of course, there was no tackling on Tuesday, but they were frequently in the right place to make plays.

Senior quarterback Alan Clothier showed off his arm a little bit on Tuesday and made some strong throws. He wasn't asked to make a ton of throws last year, but it looks like he's been working on his throws in the offseason. Adding his arm to their rushing attack will only make the Lions that much more explosive.

The Lions have high expectations this season, returning 17 starters from last year and are just pumped for the season to get started.

"Honestly, I was talking to my teammate Ivan Hollins before this," Afful said, "and he asked me, ‘P, how ready are you for the season?’ I told him, ‘Words can’t even describe it already.’ I’m very excited for this season and I know big things are coming our way."

Georgie added: "We’re hungry for September 4th to come around. We want to get that first game under our belt. We want to see where the season will take us."

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


Fall Sports Seasons in Review - Part II

When Free State's football team dropped its record to 2-3 in the middle of the season, with a difficult district schedule upcoming, not many people thought the Firebirds would wind up in the Class 6A state semifinals.

Maybe everyone should have seen more potential all along, with two of those early season losses against Olathe North and Shawnee Mission East. But the Firebirds proved their doubters wrong, ripping off a six-game winning streak, and dominating against some of the top-ranked teams in the state.

Of course, there was a lot of disappointment after a 42-14 loss to Hutchinson on Friday, but it was a playoff run that many of them will look back on with pride in the future.

"It’s the worst," senior running back and linebacker Carson Bowen said after the loss. "This is the worst feeling I’ve had so far. But we had a good year. We had a good run."

The Firebirds' defense, when healthy, was one of the top units in the Sunflower League. They had strong pass coverage with senior cornerbacks Joel Spain and Andrew Keating, while linebackers Bowen, Jay Dineen, Zion Bowlin, Paul Bittinger and others combined with the defensive line of Shane Hofer, Michael Georgie, Jalen Galloway and Blake Murray to stop the run.

On offense, junior quarterback Bryce Torneden became the fifth player in the league since 2000 to record more than 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards passing (according to Eli Underwood of the Sunflower League Football blog). With a veteran offensive line, Hofer, Scott Frantz, Coleman Houk, Josiah LeBrun and Tanner Liba, they opened a lot of running lanes throughout the year for the team's posse of running backs.

"Great group of guys. We’re all friends with each other," Frantz said. "A lot of fun in the four years. I don’t think any of us have any regrets. All of us worked hard. It’s just hard to end happy."

Several Free State seniors noted that the team will be good again next year. Impressive that they were thinking of their younger teammates just minutes after their final high school football game. But I also think they're right. With so many midseason injuries, younger guys probably got more playing time than they were expecting and that should help them pick up where they left off.

Meanwhile, Lawrence High's football team also made it through a tough district, but was knocked out in the first round of the playoffs by SM East, who will play Hutchinson in the state title game on Saturday.

The Lions always appeared that they were on the verge of success against top teams, but just fell a few plays short. Against Olathe South, the clock ran out on a huge comeback after a disastrous first half. Versus Olathe North and SM East, drives getting stopped at the goal line crushed upset bids.

Lawrence was led offensively by junior running back JD Woods, who led the league in rushing before the playoffs began. On defense, junior defensive end Amani Bledsoe led the league in sacks, and junior linebacker Price Morgan was second in the league in tackles. Overall, the Lions started around 15 underclassmen on both sides of the ball.

“Next year’s their year,” senior Cy Burghart said. “But it felt great for us to go out by getting to this point this year."

Though many people are looking forward to next season, as LHS will likely be considered one of the league favorites with so many returners, a few seniors made some key contributions throughout the year. Nyle Anderson was one of the top kick returners in the league, Luke Zenger stepped up at cornerback by the end of the year, Burghart and Stevin Hays made key tackles at linebacker, Cole Greenwood and Stephen Garcia were key parts of the offensive line, and Dearion Cooper made several huge plays at safety. But for the non-seniors, next year is one they're hoping to dominate.

“It was good for us to get here, just to see what a playoff atmosphere was like,” Woods said after the first-round playoff loss. “And we’re going to work harder than ever over the offseason so we can make a title run next year.”

Free State senior Joel Spain gets held up by Hutchinson's Gabe Ragioza on Friday, Nov. 21, 2014.

Free State senior Joel Spain gets held up by Hutchinson's Gabe Ragioza on Friday, Nov. 21, 2014. by Richard Gwin

Free State's boys soccer team was another team that outmatched most people's expectations.

The Firebirds earned a trip to the sub-state championship game before losing to Olathe East, who ended up winning the 6A state title.

The season saw a few ups and downs, as the Firebirds started with a 7-3-1 record before losing three straight and four of their last five in the regular season. But they were able to go on the road and pick up a playoff victory over Lawrence High.

There wasn't one FSHS player for opposing teams to focus on. The Firebirds had 15 seniors and the veteran lineup showed they could play a strong possession-style offense with many different scorers.

"This group, I can’t say enough about them," FSHS coach Kelly Barah said. "Finding the words right now, right after the game, is kind of hard. But the individuals that have given every single thing to the program, they’ve done it the right way, they are just quality individuals that are ready for the real world and I’m so proud of each and every one of them."

The Firebirds lose a lot of talented seniors, including Tyler Bryant in net, Buzz Walter, Randall Schmidt, Chaska Rocha and Nicholas Larkin on defense, and Daniel Clarke, Carson Gilliland, Briceson Junge and Daulton Sharp on offense, among others. But with a strong group returning, led by Will Laufer, Eduardo Carballido, Jordan Patrick, Heitor Nazareth, Isreal Lumpkins and Ernesto Hodison, the future is bright after a successful year.

"Super proud (of the season)," Schmidt said. "At least reaching here (in the sub-state title game) was one of my goals coming in and it’s great to come out with that."

Lawrence High's boys soccer team started fast with a 6-2-1 record before winning just two of its last eight matches.

The Lions were dealt with some injuries at the end of the season, but just couldn't get back into that early season rhythm when they were playing some of their best soccer.

They also lose a talented senior class of goalkeeper Andrew Ornburn, defensemen Matt Mantooth, Ellis Springe and Jake Jimenez, midfielders Jared Roush, Zach Alexander, Alex Mwithiga, Sam Clark and Logan Hawley, and forwards Jakob Burdett and Sam Stephens.

"They came out here and worked hard and made a great season out of it," LHS coach Mike Murphy said. "It’s only the third time that Lawrence High has ever hosted a playoff game, so these guys can notch that as a victory for them as far as the season goes.

"We want to build a winning program, so these guys contributed to that. They’re keeping with it."

Despite losing 13 seniors, the Lions are hoping to build for a successful future around defensemen Brennan Davies and Sam Dykes, midfielders Piper Hubbell and Charlie Carr, and forwards Cain Scott and Avery German-Martinez.

"Guys like Charlie Carr have been able to come in as a role player who scored four goals for us," Murphy said. "We’re trying to get him up and get him some looks. Cain is going to be a superstar and is getting quite a few minutes in there at forward. ...We’ll reshape ourselves and come back ready to go again next year."

Shawnee Mission South goal keeper Zak Boxler, right, pulls the ball off of the top of Lawrence High sophomore midfielder Charlie Carr's (15) head during their soccer match Thursday at LHS.

Shawnee Mission South goal keeper Zak Boxler, right, pulls the ball off of the top of Lawrence High sophomore midfielder Charlie Carr's (15) head during their soccer match Thursday at LHS. by John Young

Despite finishing as top-four teams at state, Free State's cross country teams were a little disappointed with their final race.

After winning Sunflower League titles and regional championships, the Firebirds were hoping to take home some more first place hardware.

But they still accomplished plenty. Sophomore Emily Venters led the girls team to second place at state by winning her second straight state championship. Venters won every race she raced in this year.

The girls also got a boost from sophomore Kiran Cordes, who took sixth at state, and junior Claire Sanner, who finished 29th. They are set to contend for a title again next year. Junior Liv Lyche took 34th at state and junior Rachel Witt was 92nd. However, they'll lose seniors Marlee Yost-Wolff and Allyson Hertig. Yost-Wolff improved throughout the year and finished 36th at her first state race.

“I feel like we did our best, and our best was second,” Venters said. “If we all put out our best effort, it’s what we got. I know next year that we can repeat winning again.”

The boys team took 4th place, but were dealt some tough cards as senior Ryan Liston, a league and regional champion, couldn't finish the state race because of illness.

But it probably shows how deep the Firebirds' boys team was, running without their top runner, and still finishing as a top-five team. Junior Ethan Donley took 6th, junior Tanner Hockenbury was 17th and senior Thomas Becker finished 23rd. Senior Colton Stallard, senior Connor Ballenger and senior Curtis Zicker also contributed to the team throughout the year.

The boys' cross country team returns good talent with Donley and Hockenbury, but they'll need some more young runners, who raced mostly at the JV level, to make big strides throughout the offseason to compete for a state title next season.

Lawrence High's cross country teams were plagued with injuries, and just never found a rhythm.

The boys' team took 11th at league and 6th at regionals, while the girls took last at league and 7th at regionals.

Junior Nathan Pederson was the lone state qualifier, finishing 92nd. But the boys also have some talent for the future with freshman Carter Shook and sophomore Garrett Prescott.

The girls' team was led this year by junior Shaye White and senior Shelby Ward.

Free State High School cross country runner Emily Venters, foreground left,  leads all runners at the start of the girls Sunflower League championships Saturday at Rim Rock Farm. Venters led the whole way winning the event.

Free State High School cross country runner Emily Venters, foreground left, leads all runners at the start of the girls Sunflower League championships Saturday at Rim Rock Farm. Venters led the whole way winning the event.

I posted the seasons in review for volleyball, girls tennis, girls golf and gymnastics earlier this month. It can be found here:

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


Football Game Tape: Week Nine

When districts started, not many media members and websites predicted Free State and Lawrence High football teams were going to get a spot in the state playoffs. Yet, here they are.

When the Firebirds were lined up with two ranked teams in their district, they beat both, showing strong offense and defense in the process to winning a district title for the third straight year. I remember at the beginning of the year when they had to talk about replacing last year's seniors and everything they did, but this year's team proved they have the pieces to accomplish what they did.

The Lions proved they were ready to shock some people when they beat Olathe Northwest. After a loss to Olathe North two weeks ago, they took care of business against Olathe East in an impressive team victory with touchdowns on offense, defense and special teams. Their senior class hasn't won much in the past, but they changed that this year.

Here's how the districts finished:

District 4: Olathe North - CLINCHED (2-0, +62 point differential), Lawrence - CLINCHED (2-1, +3), Olathe Northwest - ELIMINATED (1-2, -2), Olathe East - ELIMINATED (0-3, -62).

District 5: Free State - CLINCHED (3-0, +58 point differential), Topeka - CLINCHED (2-1, +16), Manhattan - ELIMINATED (1-2, -11), Washburn Rural - ELIMINATED (0-3, -63).

The Firebirds earned a spot in's rankings, checking in at No. 5 in Class 6A. They also earned the #3 seed for the west side of the state. But before we start looking ahead to next week, we'll take a look back at last week's city victories, starting with my thoughts from Free State's 53-37 win over Topeka High:

--When the offensive line gets going, there's no stopping them. Free State finished with three rushers over 100 yards, and the offensive line also gave junior quarterback Bryce Torneden plenty of time to throw in the pocket. Topeka coach Walt Alexander told his team that they looked like a JV defense at halftime, and I think that's a major credit to Free State's O-line.

--The offense has a nice mix of runs and play-action passes to keep teams off balance. The Firebirds have been working on improving their passing game, and it's easy to see. Torneden found Joel Spain for a 51-yard catch-and-run touchdown over the middle, and found Andrew Keating for an easy 13-yard strike in the end zone. Teams can't commit too much to Free State's read options when Torneden is a threat to throw it over the top.

--After trips to Manhattan and Topeka, Free State is ready for another home game. Not only did the Firebirds beat two previously-ranked teams, but they went on the road to beat them both, which makes it even more impressive. Free State hasn't played well at home this year, with only one win in four tries, but all of the players are eager to show their fans how much they've improved in the past few weeks.

"It’s nice because we haven’t really had the chance to show our fans at home what we can really do," senior RB and LB Carson Bowen said after last week's win. "So it’ll be nice to get back there and show them."

--Getting starters back healthy was huge for Free State's defense, but the Firebirds might have lost another starter. Senior tight end and defensive end Blake Murray was on crutches after the game and is out for the rest of the season. He's made some big stops on defense in the past few weeks, and it's going to be tough for his substitutes to fill his shoes.

Lawrence is technically the #8 seed for the East side of the state, but that has more to do with they can't align on the same side as second-seeded Olathe North, who they faced in districts. Here's a look at how the Lions got here with their 66-28 win over Olathe East:

--We're running out of adjectives to describe junior running back JD Woods. He ran for 262 yards and five touchdowns in three quarters. Coach Dirk Wedd has described Woods as a special player throughout the season, and he's stepping up in the biggest games. In the Lions' two wins during districts, Woods rushed for 556 yards and eight touchdowns.

--It was a complete team victory, with every area stepping up when needed. The defense stepped up for big stops, and the offense kept moving the ball throughout the night. Most of all, the Lions' special teams shined. Ivan Hollins returned a punt for a touchdown, Nyle Anderson returned a kickoff for a touchdown, and Ellis Springe kicked a 41-yard field goal, the third longest field goal by a Sunflower League kicker this season.

--Confidence is high for the Lions. Even after their loss to Olathe North, they were confident they could compete with anybody. In their first must-win game of the season, they stepped up and delivered. Even facing the top-seeded team in the state this week, they're not going to back down from any challenges.

Now for a look ahead to the first round of the state playoffs:

Lawrence High at Shawnee Mission East (at SM North Stadium) on Friday at 7 p.m. — The Lancers (9-0, ranked No. 1) completed their first undefeated regular season in school history. They are the best team I've seen this season, and they really haven't been challenged, winning by at least 23 points in each game and by an average of 41 points this season. They own the top rushing defense in the Sunflower League, and the top rushing offense.

Wichita Northwest at Free State on Friday at 7 p.m. — The Grizzlies (7-2) are led by their defense, which has allowed more than 14 points in only three games (two of those are losses). On offense, they have sophomore quarterback K'Veion Richard, who went from freshman football last year to varsity starter after an injury to their regular starter. Northwest also has a strong offensive line, and many weapons at running back and receiver.

At the end of the regular season, several city football players ranked among the best in the Sunflower League. Here are some facts and figures:

-Lawrence junior running back JD Woods led the league with 1,497 rushing yards on 178 carries. He averaged 8.4 yards per carry while scoring a team-high 19 touchdowns. He ran for more yards than three league teams this year (Olathe East (1492 yards), Olathe Northwest (1444), and SM North (1057)).

-Free State QB Bryce Torneden was second in the league in rushing at 1,062 yards (6.7 yards per carry), and he also took second in the league in total offense after passing for 695 yards and nine touchdowns to total 1,757 yards of offense.

-FSHS receiver and defensive back Joel Spain finished seventh in the league in receiving yards with 321 on 16 catches. He snagged four touchdowns. Spain also tied for sixth, along with senior DB Andrew Keating, with four interceptions this year, and was sixth in kick return yards, with 189.

-LHS junior linebacker Price Morgan took 2nd in the league in tackles, with a total of 120 including 45 solo. Morgan also had 10 tackles for a loss.

-LHS junior lineman Amani Bledsoe led the league with 13 sacks this year, despite missing a game because of an injury.

-FSHS senior lineman Shane Hofer tied for the league lead with three forced fumbles this season.

-LHS senior WR Nyle Anderson led the league in kick return average, 47.63 yards per return, while tying for the league lead in KR touchdowns (2). Anderson also was third in the league in punt return average, 18 yards, on just three returns.

-FSHS senior punter Tye Carter edged out LHS senior Luke Zenger for the best punting average between the two city punters. Carter was 2nd in the league with an average of 34.82 yards per punt, while Zenger took seventh with 30.26 yards per boot.

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


Football Game Tape: Week Eight

After eight weeks, for a lot of football teams, all of those offseason workouts, practices, close games — everything — comes down to one game to make the state playoffs.

Free State already clinched its spot with a road victory against Manhattan, but Lawrence High will likely need to a victory to continue on.

It seems like the season just started, but here we are with playoff spots on the line.

Here's how each district looks heading into the final week of the regular season:

District 4: Olathe North - CLINCHED (2-0, +42 point differential), Olathe Northwest (1-1, +18), Lawrence (1-1, -18), Olathe East - ELIMINATED (0-2, -42).

District 5: Free State - CLINCHED (2-0, +42 point differential), Topeka - CLINCHED (2-0, +32), Manhattan - ELIMINATED (0-2, -32), Washburn Rural - ELIMINATED (0-2, -42).

But before we look too much at playoff scenarios, let's go back to last week, starting with my thoughts from Free State's 35-14 win over Manhattan:

--Free State's offense rolls when junior quarterback Bryce Torneden is doing damage with his arms and legs. Manhattan had a tough time trying to stop Torneden's read options, and when they started to stack the box with defenders, he went through the air for three touchdowns. When he's running well and throwing well, it resulted in the Firebirds scoring on four of their first five drives.

--Free State's secondary stepped up when challenged. Sophomore Zack Sanders grabbed two interceptions (and a third that was negated by a pass interference call), and senior Joel Spain added one of his own. They were as far as hitting wide receivers at the exact moment he need to. As long as Torneden is healthy (and they don’t suffer any more devastating injuries), they have an offense and a line that should keep them competitive with just about any team. Torneden’s dual threat ability is difficult to defend and that makes things easier for junior Khaury El-Amin and other FSHS running backs.

--Manhattan entered with a strong run game, but the Firebirds' defense stuffed everything. The Indians finished with just 101 rushing yards on 27 attempts (3.74 per carry). With some of their starters back on the field and healthier, you can tell they regained some of their swagger. In reality, the biggest things that helped the Indians score their two touchdowns was a roughing the passer penalty on a third-and-16 incompletion at the end of the first half, and a pass interference penalty on a fake punt to open the second half.

"There were some formations we haven’t seen, there were some plays that we weren’t familiar with and when they do that, you just have to line up and play," FSHS coach Bob Lisher said. "We missed some opportunities there, but overall, I was extremely pleased with our defense and how they played. They played hard. They just made a few mistakes at crucial times, but when you give up two touchdowns (to a team that scored 40+ last week), you have to be pleased with that."

--Tye Carter helped the defense out with a few strong punts. Twice in the second half when Free State drives stalled, Carter pinned Manhattan inside of its own six-yard line. The first led to a three-and-out and the second led to an interception by Sanders, which set up a touchdown on the next drive.

"This is my first year punting, and I’m competing with my friend at (Lawrence High) Luke Zenger for the best average," Carter said. "It feels good beating him, for sure."

Olathe North beat Lawrence High, 27-0, and here are Benton Smith's thoughts:

--There were a handful of breakdowns that kept Lawrence from really challenging one of the state’s best teams, Olathe North:
• Venus Triplett returned a punt 64 yards for a touchdown.
• LHS allowed O-North to pick up a 1st down on 3rd-and-25, which set up the Eagles’ second TD.
• The Lions surrendered a 34-yard O-North TD pass on 4th-and-3.
• In the final three minutes, an LHS punt from deep in its own territory sailed straight out of bounds, giving O-North a 24-yard field.

There is such a difference in experience between these two teams that LHS needed a perfect effort to pull off an upset.

--As devastating as those plays were, Lawrence really handled the challenges of defending against O-North the rest of the game. The biggest issue in the shutout loss, of course, was moving the ball and sustaining drives. The Eagles (8-0) have held six of eight opponents this season to 14 points or less.

--Lawrence left the field feeling confident about the things it did well, which is a great sign for the final week of the regular season. And most of those positive vibes were created by the defense.
• Price Morgan forced a fumble in the first quarter.
• Amani Bledsoe and Cy Burghart teamed up to bring down Triplett for a seven-yard loss in the second quarter.
• Bledsoe absolutely destroyed the O-North O-line and sacked Eagles QB Cole Murphy for an 11-yard loss in the fourth quarter.
• Linebacker Konner Kelley blew up a few Eagles runs.
• The Lions’ offense was a couple of big plays away from really making O-North uncomfortable, and that’s not easy to do.

--After playing four quarters against the best, expect the Lions to look far better in their regular-season finale, vs. Olathe East.

Now for a look ahead to the final week of the regular season and last week of districts:

Free State at Topeka on Friday at 7 p.m. — The Trojans (7-1, ranked No. 4 in 6A by have a strong dual-threat quarterback with Alex Beatty, and a dominant running back Saylor Carraway, who ran for 223 yards last week. Though both teams have already clinched a spot in the state playoffs, this will determine who has a home game in the first week (top seed), and who is headed on the road (second seed).

Olathe East at Lawrence High on Friday at 7 p.m. — After all of that work throughout the year, everything comes down to one game. Assuming unbeaten Olathe North beats Olathe Northwest, if the Lions win, they are headed into the state playoffs. A loss, and they're headed into the offseason. The Hawks (3-5) have lost four games in a row, but they have a streaky offense led by quarterback Chase Miller and receiver Zach Cahill. They also have a good running back, Jalen Branson.

Both of Free State's cross country teams captured a regional championship on Saturday, and have plenty of momentum going into the state meet on Friday at Rim Rock Farm.

The girls' team is the favorite to repeat as state champions, as they lead the cross country coaches poll over Olathe East. It helps when Emily Venters has been racing in a different stratosphere this year, winning every race she's entered. Venters won her regional race by about 18 seconds. Sophomore Kiran Cordes has been running well lately (3rd at regionals) and junior Claire Sanner has always been consistent (5th at regionals).

The Firebirds are also getting a lift from junior Liv Lyche and senior Marlee Yost-Wolff, who both finished in the top-16 at regionals and both were in the top-30 at the Sunflower League meet.

The boys' team is ranked No. 3 in 6A, but has ran really well in recent weeks. Senior Ryan Liston won his regional race by 15 seconds and has been on a streak of wins for the past few races. The Firebirds are also helped by junior Ethan Donley, senior Thomas Becker and junior Tanner Hockenbury finishing in the top-10 at regionals and league.

Lawrence High didn't qualify either team for the state meet, but will be sending junior Nathan Pederson, who qualified individually. Pederson took 15th at regionals.

A quick update on a few Lawrence natives in college athletics:

--Former Free State volleyball star Katy Davis received her second MIAA Specialist of the Week Award of the season Monday. Davis, a sophomore setter for Central Oklahoma, led her school to a 2-0 record over conference opponents with 94 assists and 18 digs.

--Free State's own Jessica Ferguson, a freshman soccer player at Gardner-Webb, scored two goals and added two assists against Brevard College in a 6-1 win last week.

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


Football Game Tape: Week Seven

Free State and Lawrence High football teams both picked up wins in the first week of districts and are in a good spot for the upcoming two weeks.

However, that doesn't make the road forward much easier. The Firebirds will go on the road to face two teams that have been ranked in the top-five in the last two weeks, and the Lions get one of the two remaining unbeaten teams in the Sunflower League.

The positive with last week's wins is that they likely will only need one victory over the next two games to secure a spot in the playoffs.

Here's how each district looks after the first week:

District 4: Olathe North (1-0, +21 point differential), Lawrence (1-0, +3), Olathe Northwest (0-1, -3), Olathe East (0-1, -21).

District 5: Free State (1-0, +21 point differential), Topeka (1-0, +11), Manhattan (0-1, -11), Washburn Rural (0-1, -21).

Now let's get to some thoughts from last week, starting with Benton Smith's analysis of Free State's 42-14 win over Washburn Rural:

--They’re getting a littler healthier, which is huge. Sophomore linebackers Jay Dineen and Zion Bowlin being able to play will really help defensively. The Firebirds also have senior Carson Bowen back at linebacker playing near full strength.

--Junior quarterback Bryce Torneden looked to have rhythm to his throws as far as hitting wide receivers at the exact moment he need to. As long as Torneden is healthy (and they don’t suffer any more devastating injuries), they have an offense and a line that should keep them competitive with just about any team. Torneden’s dual threat ability is difficult to defend and that makes things easier for junior Khaury El-Amin and other FSHS running backs.

--Shane Hofer again showed how athletic he can be on the defensive line by picking off a pass. He would’ve housed it if there wasn’t a block in the back flag.

--The players weren’t too satisfied and they won by 28. That’s a good sign of maturity. The next couple weeks could be challenging playing at Manhattan and Topeka. Opponents and venus new for this year are difficult to prepare for, especially with playoff spots on the line.

Lawrence High beat Olathe Northwest 20-17 and here are my thoughts:

--The Lions' defense is playing with a lot of confidence and it's making a world of difference. Ever since their goal line stand against Olathe South, the Lions have allowed just two touchdowns in the past six quarters. One of those touchdowns came after a fumble and Olathe Northwest started in the red zone. Otherwise they've stopped two solid offenses dead in their tracks.

--JD Woods stayed patient when he was tackled in the backfield several times, and it paid off on his big runs. Some running backs would have become antsy trying to make something out of nothing, but Woods continued to run behind his line, and it set up four long runs (three for touchdowns). It doesn't take much to spring Woods, but it was impressive how quick he turned the game around in the second half.

LHS doesn't keep single-game records, but it's believed Woods set a new school record with 294 rushing yards. It's likely the most rushing yards in one game since Thomas Daniels went for 276 yards in the 1995 state championship game.

“When he gets to the linebackers, I know he’s gone,” junior quarterback Alan Clothier said.

--The Lions secondary was tested repeatedly but turned in their best performance. They held Olathe Northwest QB Jack Hatzfeld to just five completions in 22 attempts. Ivan Hollins and Luke Zenger proved to be strong in man-to-man coverage, and Dearion Cooper just has a nose for the ball and makes it difficult to complete throws over the middle.

--It was big for the Lions to get junior Amani Bledsoe back on the defensive line. Bledsoe attracts a ton of double-teams and even the occasional triple-team. With all of that attention, it allows linebackers Price Morgan, Konner Kelley, and Tanner Green to have an easier path to the ball and make several stops at the line of scrimmage or in the backfield.

Now for a look ahead to next week:

Free State at Manhattan on Friday at 7 p.m. — The Indians (6-1) lost their first game last week to Topeka, 52-41, after taking a 14-0 lead. They have a strong run game with Keiadrain McDonald and Chris Martin, and quarterback Eric Prockish has a strong arm. It's likely a must-win game for the Indians to make the playoffs, with Topeka High expected to beat Washburn Rural.

Lawrence High at Olathe North on Friday at 7 p.m. — The Eagles (7-0, ranked No. 2 in 6A by started the season slowly but have dominated in the past few weeks. They beat Olathe East, 49-3, and held them to less than 100 yards of total offense. O-North have one of the top rushing attacks in the league, led by Venus Triplett, who ran for 142 yards and three scores last week. The Eagles also have an extremely quick defense that's strong at stopping the run.

Free State's volleyball team responded well after a tough home loss to Bishop Miege that had players upset with the way their season was going.

The Firebirds had a 4-2 record and took fifth place at the Emporia Invitational on Saturday, with their only losses coming against Maize (ranked No. 6 in 6A by the Kansas Volleyball Association) and Topeka Seaman (ranked No. 4 in 5A).

There were tears and plenty of frustrated players after the loss to Miege (ranked No. 1 in 4A), with a lackluster third set after playing the first two sets close.

"The big difference was the first two sets, as a team, we were confident in each other and ourselves," Allie Knapp said after the loss to Miege. "Between every single play, every single mistake that we had, we really were coming together and making each other feel great about ourselves. In the third set, the confidence was gone in ourselves and each other, and that was a huge difference. We let it get the best of us, and we shouldn’t have."

The Emporia Invitational showed a good response to that, and with regionals looming on Saturday, it happened at a good time. The Firebirds will play in the Blue Valley West triangular Tuesday night and in a dual against Lawrence High on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the Lions haven't been able to find a rhythm lately. After taking fourth place at the Joan Wells Invitational earlier this month, the Lions have a 2-9 record.

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


Football Game Tape: Week Six

After six weeks of high school football, now's the time when the stakes get raised. This upcoming week is the start of district playoffs.

Free State won't face another Sunflower League opponent for the remainder of the season unless it's in the state championship. Instead they look towards Topeka schools in District 5, with Washburn Rural, Topeka High and Manhattan.

Lawrence High will try to compete for the Olathe city title in District 4 by facing three Olathe schools (O-Northwest, O-North and O-East) over the next three weeks.

Both Free State and LHS have tough draws this year. The Firebirds get Manhattan (6-0, ranked No. 5 in Class 6A by and Topeka (5-1), who was ranked before it was upset by Shawnee Heights last week. The Lions get Olathe North (6-0, ranked No. 2) and the other two Olathe schools have .500 records or better.

But before we look too far ahead to the districts, here are some of my thoughts from Free State's 21-6 victory over SM South.

--There's not many places to throw against Free State's secondary. Entering the season, teams were aware of how good senior cornerback Joel Spain was with all of his interceptions over the past two years. But on the other side of the field, Andrew Keating has made a name for himself. He had two interceptions last week, bringing his season total to four, and earning the "Keating Island" nickname from his teammates. Both Spain and Keating have great ball skills, and the Firebirds trust both of them in man-to-man situations.

--Junior quarterback Bryce Torneden kept the defense off balance with his runs and throws. Every opponent knows plenty about Torneden's ability to run the ball on options and read-options (their "bread and butter," Torneden calls them), as he ran for 154 yards last week. But in terrible weather, he completed two passes for 37 yards and a touchdown. On a few incompletions, he had an open receiver but just barely missed. The Firebirds haven't really thrown the ball much over the past few weeks, but the touchdown throw was a positive sign.

--The Firebirds finished a few long drives, a problem they've had in recent weeks. That was a focus for the offense and they got it done. The first two drives of the game for FSHS, both ending with touchdowns: 5 plays, 67-yards; 7 plays, 48-yards. The offense still could do better on a few more drives (one ended at midfield after a false start, another by a lost fumble), but that has to provide some confidence after long drives stalled in the past couple of weeks.

--Some of the Firebirds' injury woes are fading. The Firebirds got Carson Bowen and Khaury El-Amin back at running back Thursday, and they're hopeful to get a few more defensive starters back this week. Free State changed its defensive scheme because of all the injuries in the victory, and the Firebirds executed well for the majority of the game. It'll be interesting to watch if they stick with the new scheme when some guys come back (probably at less than 100 percent) or if they go back to the 3-5-3.

Lawrence High rallied back in the second half of its 29-21 loss to Olathe South and here are my thoughts:

--The second half showed a lot about this team. After trailing by 29 points at halftime, the defense stood tall in the second half after stopping four straight runs inside of the two-yard line on O-South's first possession of the second half, giving the offense momentum for a 99-yard scoring drive. Afterward, Olathe South's drives ended with three straight punts, an interception, and another punt in the final minute of the game. Not too many teams can turn it around like that against a top-five ranked team.

"I didn’t know what to tell them after that," LHS coach Dirk Wedd said. "I was upset with them and I love them to death because they showed a lot of character and fight. I think we’ve got a shot — a legitimate shot — to make a run in next three games."

--The Lions' secondary was solid against a good passing team. After O-South quarterback Jake Seurer started the game 4-for-6 for 39 yards, the secondary held him to 1-for-7 for one yard over the remainder of the game (after the goal line stand). LHS senior safety Dearion Cooper highlighted the secondary's play with two interceptions. There was also pass deflections from Ivan Hollins and a big pass breakup by Luke Zenger in man-on-man coverage to keep the game alive. The past few weeks, they've had some breakdowns in coverage, but this looked like their best performance in awhile.

--The Lions are going to make teams respect their passing game. A lot was made of Lawrence's win two weeks ago when the Lions didn't attempt a single pass (though winds and the score did play a factor). But junior quarterback Alan Clothier, who went 7-for-17 for 109 yards and 3 INT, kept the Falcons from loading the box on runs. He made some great throws, especially on the potential game-tying drive, and just overthrew a few more passes on the first half. He vowed after the game to make the team's passing game even better. The key on Friday was that it was effective enough to keep teams from focusing too much on Lawrence's run game.

--Speaking of the running game, it's hard to bottle up JD Woods for an entire game. Olathe South did as well as any team has this season, holding Woods to just 38 yards on 15 carries in the first half. But all it took was one adjustment, leading to a cut back lane, that set up three runs of 19 yards or more in the second half, before he totaled 179 yards by the end of the game. It's impressive how fast Woods can move in the second level.

"We made a couple of adjustments as far as going to the perimeter a little more," Wedd said. "JD is special. Wow."

Now for a look ahead to next week:

Washburn Rural at Free State on Friday at 7 p.m. — The Junior Blues (2-4) have struggled this season, but they have a strong quarterback in Blake Peterson, a Texas State commit. Not including Friday's game, Peterson has thrown for 1,135 yards (227 per game), according to the Topeka Capital-Journal. His top receiver Jake Michalski had 14 catches for 340 yards.

Olathe Northwest at Lawrence High on Friday at 7 p.m. — After a 31-0 rout over SM Northwest, the Ravens (4-2) have some momentum heading into districts. Entering last week, they owned the top rushing defense in the Sunflower League, holding teams to just 86 yards per game on the ground. They also lead the league in points allowed, only 52 points over six games -- the next closest teams have allowed 66 and 82.

If Philadelphia is the city of Brotherly Love, then Lawrence might set claim for Sisterly Love. Especially, if we're talking about girls tennis.

Lawrence High seniors Yelena and Anna Birt, twin sisters, won a regional championship in doubles over Free State junior Caitlin Dodd and freshman Ali Dodd, another set of sisters.

Along with the Birt and Dodd sisters, Free State will also send its doubles team of Rachel Walters and Taylor Hawkins to the state tournament this weekend.

But of the three doubles teams to qualify for state, it was impressive to watch the Dodd sisters win close game after close game. In the quarterfinals, their opponent called for a line judge midway through the second set because of disputed calls. That only added the drama when the Dodds led five games to four and had match point on a deuce, but lost the point and eventually went into a tiebreaker.

In the tiebreaker, no team really separated before the Dodds finally won two points in a row (winning match point on a double fault) for the 11-9 victory.

The two sisters were supporting each other between every point, "Only two more," or "Come on, right here." They had a similar close match in the semifinals, in which the opponent also called for a line judge.

One of their keys is Ali Dodd's serve, which I overheard opponents saying "Watch out for those. They're really good."

"My serve is probably one of my strongest points," Ali Dodd said. "I just like always think about where I'm going to hit it and where I'm going to put it in all of the time."

Free State's gymnastics team finished second at the Sunflower League meet, while Lawrence High took ninth.

Free State senior Grace Bartle won a league title in the floor exercise and finished as runner-up in all-around and uneven bars. FSHS seniors Haley Johnson and Carrie Howland finished eighth and ninth in the all-around, respectively. Howland's best finish was sixth in the vault and floor exercise, while Johnson took ninth in the floor and 10th in the vault. Junior Callie Hicks also added a third place finish on the uneven bars and was 12th on the beam.

Lawrence's top placer was junior Ashley Ammann, who took third in the floor exercise and 12th in the all-around. Jordyn Leon also added a 22nd place finish on the bars, and Elizabeth Harms was 29th in the floor exercise.

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


FSHS gymnastics sights set on championship repeat

There's not many tougher tasks in sports than defending a championship. It's tough to keep that edge needed to compete at a championship level, the spotlight is always bright, and there's no sneaking up on anybody.

But that's the goal for Free State High's gymnastics team. The Firebirds have won state titles in two of the past three years, and in three of the last five.

The Firebirds brought back a lot of talent from last year's 6A state champion squad, but there's plenty of teams gunning for this year's crown. Olathe East has edged them at a couple of meets this season.

However, the difference with gymnastics compared to every other fall sport is the break between the Sunflower League meet and the state meet. The Firebirds, along with Lawrence High, will compete in the league meet on Saturday, before waiting two weeks for state. That allows teams to work on more difficult skills to unleash at state.

"In two weeks, a lot of things can happen," FSHS and LHS gymnastics coach Brooke Kissinger said. "We still don't totally know, but (regular season meets) give us a good idea of who is kind of where and what kind of chances we have at state."

With seniors Grace Bartle, Carrie Howland, Haley Johnson, the Firebirds definitely have the cards that give them a good shot of repeating this year.

Bartle scored a 9.2 in the vault and 9.1 on floor exercise at the All-Around Invitational on Wednesday. Howland was strong on the vault (9.0) and beam (8.75), while Johnson scored an 8.7 on both the vault and beam. All three placed in the top-10, with Bartle taking second place, Howland in sixth and Johnson in eighth.

Speaking of the difficulty of repeating as a state champion, Free State's girls cross country team will try to defend its title at the end of the month.

The girls' team is ranked No. 1 in Class 6A in the Kansas cross country coaches poll, just ahead of Maize, Olathe East and Manhattan. The Firebirds have a strong core group with sophomore Emily Venters, junior Claire Sanner, sophomore Kiran Cordes, junior Liv Lyche and senior Marlee Yost-Wolff. .

Meanwhile, Free State's boys cross country team is still ranked No. 2 in 6A, but have picked up a ton of votes in the past two weeks and are narrowly behind Manhattan. Blue Valley and Garden City aren't far behind, either.

Lawrence High and Free State's girls tennis teams are prepping for regionals on Saturday in Gardner-Edgerton, but the weather this week hasn't done them any favors.

Practice time has been shorter than I'm sure both schools would like with rain over the past few days. However, they have plenty to be confident about after LHS took fifth place in the Sunflower League meet last week, while Free State took seventh.

The Lions haven't had someone represent them at state in the past two years, but should have a good shot of adding some qualifiers this year after senior Kendall Pritchard went 2-1 at No. 1 doubles at league, while Anna and Yelena Birt have shown potential at No. 1 doubles.

For the Firebirds, Caitlin and Ali Dodd have played well as a doubles pairing.

A few city athletes have made some news with their college recruitment:

--Free State senior swimmer Courtney Caldwell orally committed to North Carolina State last month. Caldwell, a six-time state champion along with three relay championships, joins a collegiate team that has a reputation for developing sprint freestylers.

--Lawrence High junior point guard Justin Roberts earned his first scholarship offer from UMKC earlier this week. Roberts averaged a team-best 17.2 points per game for LHS last season, while also leading with 75 assists.

--Lawrence High junior lineman Amani Bledsoe picked up scholarship offers from Texas Tech on Tuesday, Oklahoma and Ohio State on Wednesday, and Nebraska on Thursday. He currently holds eight offers.

I talked to him last week about the recruiting process after he took an unofficial to Nebraska last month, when he visited the Cornhuskers' facilities, saw a practice and watched them beat Miami.

"All of the attention is great right now," Bledsoe said. "I heard it might get annoying later on, so we'll have to wait and see."

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


Football Game Tape: Week Five

Since the City Showdown, Lawrence High and Free State's football teams have been trending in opposite directions.

The Lions bounced back with two solid outings from their defense and offensive linemen. Meanwhile the Firebirds have lost two and haven't played with the same smashmouth style they had earlier in the year.

Do I think there's reasons for the Firebirds to be concerned?

Yes, but mainly because of injuries to the defense. I wouldn't go overboard. They still have a strong offensive line. I don't think that group of seniors is going to just watch their season go down without a fight. If they clean up some of the mental errors, I think they'll get back to finding ways to win.

Now just focusing on last week, here are some of my thoughts from Lawrence High's 19-7 victory over SM South:

--There weren't any long runs, but the offensive line won the line of scrimmage. The Lions ran for 306 yards on 59 attempts, but didn't have many long runs. Instead the linemen were forced to grind it out on each play, and it produced scoring drives on the first three possessions. In the second half, they helped run out the clock without any scoring drives, and without attempting a pass for the entire game.

--JD Woods is one of the most explosive running backs in the Sunflower League. His goal this season is winning the league's rushing yards title. He finally has the lead with 684 yards over Olathe North's Venus Triplett, who has 616 (and missed most of the second half last week because of injury, per Eli Underwood of Woods has no problem lowering his shoulder for short gains or flashing his speed when he gets to the second level. In the second half, he was running against eight or nine defenders in the box, and he still had some effectiveness.

--The Lions held SM South to just 35 yards on the ground as the defensive line and linebackers stuck with their assignments. Plenty of people have praised defensive coordinator Adam Green's game plans this season, and Thursday showed how good it can be when the entire defense is on the same page. The Lions were exploited on a few pass plays, but it's hard to run on a defense that has such a good mix of speed and strength.

--Despite strong winds, Luke Zenger helped the Lions' defense with a few big punts. The wind was bad enough that LHS coach Dirk Wedd didn't want to pass in the third quarter. Yet that meant a few extra punts for Zenger when the Lions didn't move the ball. After his first punt went high in the air but only went a net of five yards, he adjusted and his next punt was 33 yards. When he got the wind to his back, he booted a 40-yard punt.

Free State lost 42-14 to Shawnee Mission East, the top-ranked team in Class 6A, and here are my thoughts:

--Injuries are starting to take their toll. All of the players and coaches have the right approach and are trusting the next man up. Look no further than Joel Spain taking over at running back, and rushing for 70 yards. But against SM East, a fast-paced no-huddle offense that requires a lot of discipline to defend, the Firebirds really could have used their veteran guys at linebacker. Free State has plenty of talented replacements for injured players, but there's a learning curve, and the Firebirds' tough schedule hasn't allowed much time for that.

--The Firebirds were moving the ball but struggled to finish drives. You wouldn't know it by the 14 points on the scoreboard, but Free State did some solid things on offense. The problem was finding the end zone. Near the end of the first half, the Firebirds had a 11-play, 43-yard drive stall at the 24-yard line. But there were also too many three-and-outs, which puts pressure on the defense, especially against a no-huddle offense.

"We'll get it sorted it out," senior center Coleman Houk said after the game. "We're obviously really disappointed with tonight. ...We need to figure it out fast before playoffs come around."

--SM East looks like the most complete team in the league. Free State has played the top-two teams in 6A, along with Olathe North. The biggest knock against SM East as the top team has been its schedule this year. But from what I've seen, the Lancers have a strong offense that's going to take a veteran defense to stop. They also play solid defense of their own. O-North is strong on both sides of the ball as well, but SM East was the best team I've seen (so far) this year.

Now for a look ahead to next week:

Free State at Shawnee Mission South on Thursday at 7 p.m. — The Raiders (1-4) are hoping their starting quarterback, Matt Hollingsworth, will return this week. They have a good passing game, but struggled with the run against LHS last week. Return man Marshall Bland leads the league in kick return yards (288). It will be Free State's last game against a Sunflower League opponent before heading into districts against Topeka schools.

Lawrence High at Olathe South on Friday at 7 p.m. — The Falcons (4-1) are ranked No. 5 by, and own one of the best offenses in the Sunflower League. With starting running back Collin Fischer out last week, DaeVonte Nance ran for more than 100 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterback Jake Seurer is fourth in the league with 609 passing yards (36-for-56 on throws). Their defense also forces a lot of turnovers.

Some quick notes on a couple of Free State grads:

--Two weeks ago, former Free State football player Kirk Resseguie, a defensive back for Missouri Western, was named the MIAA Defensive Athlete of the Week. He earned the honor with seven tackles, a fumble recovery for a touchdown and a sack for a safety.

--Former Free State distance running star Bailey Sullivan was featured by the Big 12 Conference's website in its student athlete spotlight. The story can be found by clicking the link: here.

--Former Free State linebacker Keith Loneker Jr. is second in tackles for Baker University. Loneker has a total of 31 tackles, including 13 solo and two for a loss.

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


Football Game Tape: Week Three

Unlike most years, the football City Showdown has passed and there's still a lot of season to be played.

Instead of all of the playoff hopes riding on the rivalry game, it's back to business as usual for both teams.

But before we take a look forward, it's a look back at last week in our weekly blog post: Football Game Tape.

Here are some of my observations from the City Showdown on both teams, starting with Free State, who won 31-12:

--The Firebirds' run defense seems to improve each week. They plugged up holes all night to stop Lawrence High's running back duo of JD Woods and Trey Moore. Outside of the two long touchdown runs, Free State's defense held the Lions to 54 yards on 27 attempts. It starts up front with Blake Murray, Michael Georgie, Josiah LeBrun and Shane Hofer on the defensive line, while the linebackers have a lot of speed. "The defensive line had no space or gaps," Moore said afterward. "They just fill all the gaps."

--The Firebirds have a number of running backs without much drop off between them. Whether it's Carson Bowen, Joe Lane or Khaury El-Amin, they're all threats to have big games. The City Showdown was El-Amin's debut at the varsity level and he responded with more than 100 yards and a score. "They're very talented," LHS coach Dirk Wedd said. "They keep running (RB's) out there that I didn't even know were on the scorecard. I've never seen (El-Amin) and he runs hard." Add in Bryce Torneden, and it's tough for defenses to shut all of them down.

--Torneden bounced back from a rough week against Olathe North and made a difference on the ground and through the air. Torneden ran for 62 yards and a score, while also throwing for 50 yards and a touchdown. He didn't turn the ball over, and he has so many plays that should be sacks or short gains that he can improvise into a long run. It seemed like he's been there before, except this was his first start behind center in the City Showdown.

--A reliable kicker is very important in high school football and Daniel Clarke was exactly that in the City Showdown. Not only did Clarke kick a 23-yard field goal in the second quarter, but he had some nice kickoffs to limit Lawrence's returners from doing damage through special teams. Though extra points are usually an after-thought, there have been some games across the state decided by missed extra points.

Now for Lawrence High:

--The offensive line opened some holes for long touchdowns but struggled to win the line of the scrimmage for most of the night. The biggest problem with the Lions' run game is blocking for outside runs. When those plays break down, they usually lead to tackles in the backfield, and it forces LHS to just run between the tackles. “They beat us up front. They’re big and we couldn’t knock them off the ball,” Wedd said. “We couldn’t block on the perimeter to get anything going. So then (FSHS's defensive line) got us to try and get physical with them, and they’re pretty good at that.”

--Alan Clothier looked like a leader at the end of the first half trying to will the Lions' offense to the end zone. Entering the final drive of the first half, the Lions were without a first down. Then on a third-and-two, Clothier bounced a scramble to his right and lowered his shoulders to pick up four yards and a first down. Then he did the same thing on his next two runs, picking up first downs. That's exactly what you want out of a quarterback. The offense struggled and he did his best to create some of his own, helping LHS pick up some momentum into halftime despite not scoring.

--Price Morgan and Tanner Green were flying around the field and limited Free State's ground game until the end of the third quarter. The Lions confused Free State's offense in the first half with a lot of different stunts that the Firebirds weren't expecting. Credit also goes to Cole Greenwood, Nathan Koehn, Amani Bledsoe and Trey Georgie up front for allowing Morgan and Green to roam free to make tackles. Every time I saw a pile of players in a tackle, Morgan and Green were at the bottom next to the ball carrier. However, Free State had so many long drives, the defense seemed worn down by the end of the third quarter. "I was very happy with how the defense was doing the first half," Georgie said. "The second half we weren't as effective but we just have to keep on working."

--The secondary had a solid game despite giving up a touchdown throw in the first quarter. Even during Joel Spain's 21-yard touchdown catch, Woods was right next to him and had a hand in his face. It was a good play by both Spain and Woods, just Spain played the ball perfectly. The secondary of Woods, Dearion Cooper, Ivan Hollins and J'Mony Bryant didn't allow any more big completions and forced Torneden to scramble more with strong coverage.

Now for a look ahead to next week:

Shawnee Mission Northwest at Lawrence High on Friday at 7 p.m. — The Cougars (1-2) were crushed last week by the top-ranked team in 6A, Shawnee Mission East, 41-6. Their defense has struggled this season, especially through the air. This is the final home game for the Lions (1-2) until Oct. 17, and there should be some motivation for them after the City Showdown as it is their homecoming game.

Leavenworth at Free State on Friday at 7 p.m. — The Pioneers (1-2) are on a two-game losing skid falling to Olathe Northwest, 15-6, last week and LHS the week before. Quarterback Landry Hodges leads the offense in rushing and through the air, while receiver Isaiah Ross is among the top wideouts in the league. The Firebirds (2-1) have limited two of the top running teams Sunflower League over the last two weeks and now they'll face a good passing attack.

Both of Free State's cross country teams had a strong showing on Saturday at the Baldwin Invitational.

Senior Ryan Liston won the boys' race in a photo finish by 0.005 seconds, while junior Claire Sanner paced the girls field by taking an early lead and never looking back in her first victory of the season.

Besides the winners, another strong day came from sophomore Kiran Cordes, who finished third while running in a personal-best 15:25.80. Liv Lyche and Marlee Yost-Wolff also added top-15 times.

I heard several spectators talking about Cordes' improvement from last year, and how they couldn't believe how much faster she was this season.

“We actually saw that in track season last year,” FSHS coach Steve Heffernan said. “She just — in one race — made a jump from being a very good runner to kind of an elite runner. Today that just showed up again. So if she can continue to do that, that really helps our chances to do some things at state.”

At last year's Baldwin Invitational, Cordes finished 17th in 15:46.01.

"I'm more experienced with pacing and how many miles the courses are," Cordes said. "I've seen all of the courses once."

Liston's first-place finish wasn't the only highlight for the boys' team as junior Ethan Donley took 5th, Thomas Becker finished 9th and Tanner Hockenbury was 11th.

"They're starting to look like the team we thought they'd be coming into the season," Heffernan said. "At this point, we just have to see if we can get our fifth runner a little bit closer to where we're at, and we'll be in good shape."

Liston added: "I'm really excited to see where we're at, at the end of the season because that's something I've been looking forward to since basically the end of last year, when we moved up four spots in state (6th place) from the year before."

Free State's girls team is ranked No. 1 in the cross country coaches poll and the boys are ranked No. 2, and it seems like they are both starting to hit their strides.

Meanwhile Lawrence High's cross country teams struggled to eighth place finishes.

“We didn’t have such a good day today,” LHS coach Brian Anderson said. “I don’t know. We have a lot of injuries in the girls side. On the boys side, I don’t know what happened. I thought we were better prepared.”

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


The Football City Showdown has arrived

After a long week of practices, it's finally time for Lawrence High and Free State football teams to take the field.

Even though this City Showdown is much earlier in the season and doesn't have the usual postseason implications, it hasn't toned down the excitement from players for the game at 7 tonight at LHS.

"I'm pretty excited because this is the first game I've actually like played in — started in — the LHS game, so this is pretty exciting for me," Free State senior tight end and defensive end Blake Murray said. "It's probably the biggest game I've ever played in."

After a 14-7 loss last week against Olathe North, Free State's offense ended the game with a bad taste in their mouth when they were limited to less than 20 total yards in the second half. The Firebirds are hoping to make up for those mistakes with a quick start against LHS.

"We want to come back," FSHS senior center Coleman Houk said. "Obviously we wanted to beat O-North and beating LHS is definitely something we circle on our calendars each year."

Yet, Free State players aren't the only ones ready to play and hoping to jump to a quick start.

"Oh I'm pumped. I'm ready to go," LHS junior quarterback Alan Clothier said. "Last year I was supposed to start but I ended up getting injured so I missed that year. So this is my first game I get to play in against Free State, and just having the whole crowd yelling at me is going to be awesome."

Players and coaches from both schools said they believe the biggest key will be which group of linemen on both sides of the ball can make the biggest impact in the game. Behind the linemen, I wrote a story on the duo of running backs at LHS, while the Lions' defense is focused on limiting Free State dual-threat quarterback Bryce Torneden.

"Obviously Bryce, he has the capability to really create," junior linebacker and tight end Price Morgan said. "They got a lot of good guys. They're a solid team. We just have to play our assignments and just take care of business."

After the Lions beat Leavenworth last week, 21-14, they're confident they can protect their home field against Free State.

"It was a good win," Lions senior lineman Stephen Garcia said. "Leavenworth is a good team. They beat us last year. After beating a good team here at LHS, we're 1-0 on our field, I mean it gives us confidence to stay undefeated on our field."

I stopped by each school to get video introductions of both teams' starters on offense and defense. I also asked all of the players to name their favorite pre-game meal (you'll notice Jimmy John's will never go out of business thanks to LHS). You can watch the video below:

Free State's probable starters:

Offense: LT — Scott Frantz, sr.; LG — Shane Hofer, sr.; C — Coleman Houk, sr.; RG — Josiah LeBrun, sr.; RT — Tanner Liba, jr.; QB — Bryce Torneden, jr.; RB — Carson Bowen, sr.; H-back — Joel Spain, sr.; WR — Tye Carter, sr.; WR — Andrew Keating, sr.; TE — Blake Murray, sr.; K — Joel Spain, sr.; P — Tye Carter, sr.

Defense: DE — Blake Murray, sr.; NG — Michael Georgie, sr.; DE — Shane Hofer, sr.; OLB — Drew Tochtrop, jr.; MLB — Jay Dineen, so.; LB — Paul Bittinger, jr.; LB — Zion Bowlin, so.; OLB — Carson Bowen, sr.; CB — Andrew Keating, sr.; CB — Joel Spain, sr.; FS — Bryce Torneden jr.

Lawrence High's probable starters:

Offense: LT — Stephen Garcia, sr.; LG — Nathan Koehn, jr.; C — Cole Greenwood, sr.; RG — Jacob Unruh, so.; RT — Amani Bledsoe, jr.; QB — Alan Clothier, jr.; RB — JD Woods, jr.; H — Stevin Hays, sr.; WR — Nyle Anderson, sr.; WR — Zak McAlister, sr.; TE — Price Morgan, jr.; K — Ellis Springe, sr.; P — Luke Zenger, sr.

Defense: DE — Cole Greenwood, sr.; NG — Nathan Koehn, jr.; DE — Amani Bledsoe, jr.; OLB — Konner Kelley, jr.; ILB — Price Morgan, jr.; ILB — Tanner Green, jr.; OLB — Stevin Hays, sr.; CB — JD Woods, jr.; CB — Ivan Hollins, jr.; SS — J’Mony Bryant, jr.; FS — Dearion Cooper, sr.

Lawrence High's boys soccer team has jumped to a 2-1-1 start to the season, and has only allowed one goal in those four games.

A big reason they've been so successful in limiting opposing teams is because of their back line of defense: junior Brennan Davies, junior Sam Dykes, senior Matt Mantooth and senior Ellis Springe. They have a strong combination of speed and strength, and are tough to get around.

"We've got such great speed back there," LHS coach Mike Murphy said. "Our two center backs are just fantastic athletes and they are real smart, too, with their timing on their tackles."

The back line of defense has certainly been the Lions' strong suit in the early part of the season, but players and coaches are confident that the attackers will get up to speed soon.

"It's the furthest along," Murphy said of the back line. "We've got three of four guys back there that are returning varsity lettermen, so that helps. Now granted, in the midfield we have a lot of returning lettermen as well, but midfield it just takes more time to coordinate your attack."

Meanwhile, Free State's boys soccer team also has a 2-1-1 record. This week, the Firebirds tied Shawnee Mission West, 2-2, after falling behind by two goals in the first half on Tuesday, and lost to Shawnee Mission East, 8-1, on Thursday.

Some quick notes on a couple of Lawrence natives:

--Former Free State distance running star Bailey Sullivan was named Texas Christian University's female Athlete of the Week. She led TCU women's cross country team with a ninth-place finish at the UT-Arlington Season Opener, with a time of 18:18.4 in the 5,000 meter race.

--Former Free State quarterback and defensive back Joe Dineen made his Kansas University debut at running back in the Jayhawks' 41-3 loss to Duke. He ran for 28 yards on six carries.

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


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