Free State football hopes to keep up momentum in home opener; Lions ready for their first road test
photo by: Chance Parker
Free State football will play its first home game of the season Friday, and head coach Kevin Stewart is excited to see whether his team can keep up its momentum after last Thursday’s 49-21 victory over Shawnee Mission Northwest.
This week’s opponent is Shawnee Mission South. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
“This week is about focus,” Stewart said. “We need to focus on the things we can control. We don’t want to give them any confidence.”
In the Firebirds’ blowout win over the Cougars last week, senior quarterback Jet Dineen led the offense, rushing 11 times for 152 yards and three touchdowns.
And while the ground attack will be important this week, Stewart said the Firebirds would have to switch things up to keep their foes on their toes.
“We are going to spread the ball out a little more now that the cat is out of the bag,” Stewart said. “I think they are going to expect Dineen to run the ball.”
Shawnee Mission South is coming off a 56-0 loss to Olathe North in the opener, but Stewart believes it is still going to be a tough battle.
“I would expect their offense is their strength right now,” Stewart said. “I would expect them to be a lot more improved than last week.”
This week is Free State’s homecoming, as well, and the Firebirds are looking forward to playing in front of a packed home crowd for the first time since 2019.
“The guys will feed off the energy,” Stewart said. “If last week showed us anything, our guys are ready to play football.”
Lions ready for first road test
Still riding the momentum of its season-opening home win last week, Lawrence High will face its first road test of the year on Friday at Shawnee Mission North.
LHS coach Clint Bowen learned a lot last week, but that hasn’t changed his expectations for his group heading into Week 2.
“We’re progressing through our install,” Bowen said. “Adding a few bits and pieces here as we go and just building on what we’re able to put in the game. We don’t have all our (offensive) or defensive packaging, so we’re continuing to try and clean up.”
Shawnee Mission North opened its season with a 28-7 road loss to Shawnee Mission East.
Bowen, who coached in a variety of roles at the University of Kansas earlier in his career, knows a change of scenery can throw players off. He’s seen what challenges the first road matchup can bring.
“Whatever the environment is, there’s always a couple more distractions any time you take a road trip,” Bowen said. “It’d be good to get to a strange field and see how guys react. It’d be good to get a road game under our belt and get guys going.”
Senior quarterback Truman Juelsgaard led Lawrence High’s offense through the air and on the ground last week against Olathe East. And Bowen wants to see what else Juelsgaard’s arm can add to the Lions’ attack.
“We want to always have the ability to go to the weak spot of any defense,” Bowen said. “Truman proved in Week 1 that he’s able to make some good throws, and we can go get it and take advantage of what defenses show us.”
Satisfied with his defense’s start to the season, Bowen says the Lions have a unique style of defending that’s proved effective so far.
“We teach tackling probably a little bit different than most people,” Bowen said. “We have our own beliefs and thoughts on our tackling. Our kids bought into it, and I thought for Week 1 we tackled at a pretty high percentage.”
But he said the defense would have to adjust to a different kind of opponent this week.
“Shawnee Mission North is one of those flex-bone option teams, so it’s a little bit of a different offense. It’s one of those plans that you have to be very disciplined with your eyes as a defensive player.”
Kickoff for the game is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Shawnee Mission District Stadium.