Firebirds set for showdown with Olathe North; Lions return home to face SM West

photo by: Shane Jackson

Free State head coach Kevin Stewart speaks to the football team after the final day of summer camp on Thursday at FSHS on July 15, 2021.

The Free State football team will face its toughest test yet when it looks to keep its unbeaten season alive on Friday at No. 2 Olathe North.

After enjoying blowout wins over Shawnee Mission Northwest and Shawnee Mission South, Free State coach Kevin Stewart knows that this week’s game will be one of the most challenging — and the most critical — for his team.

“This game and the next two are the big three on our schedule,” Stewart said.

As the Firebirds (2-0) enter the heart of their season, the message throughout the week has been about responding to late-game situations.

Throughout the first two games, Free State has not been challenged late in the game. But that could change when the Firebirds go up against the high-powered Eagles.

“We all kind of know that Olathe North is on a different level,” Stewart said. “They’ve got some really good athletes getting the ball in space.”

During practice this week, Stewart emphasized the importance of limiting penalties and focusing on things the Firebirds can control. He knows taking on Olathe North is hard enough on its own — his team shouldn’t be giving the Eagles any help.

As the Free State offense continues to lean on its top playmakers — including Jet Dineen and Dash Cleveland — Stewart is eager to see how his entire team reacts in a tight game against a top-notch opponent.

“It is going to be a good measuring stick to see where we are at,” Stewart said.

Friday’s kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. at the Olathe District Activity Center.

Lions focus on fundamentals as they prepare for SM West

When Lawrence High returns home this week, the Lions will take on a competitive Shawnee Mission West team with a tough defense. And LHS coach Clint Bowen said the team can’t afford to get complacent.

The Lions won convincingly at SM North last week, but Bowen said there were some key lessons from that game that his team was using to prepare for the Vikings.

“We need to learn to play with much better pad level,” Bowen said. “We need to learn to play with a lot more purpose in our fundamentals. Our first steps are body position and finishing plays.”

Last week, LHS had a consistent rushing attack led by sophomore Brayden Heck. And Bowen is comfortable with the Lions’ ground game, even though the position is plagued by injuries.

“We were down Josh King and Shance Wilkerson for that last game,” he said. “So Brayden stepped in and Tony Jacobsen stepped in there to run the ball. And we forced runs into some defenses that they had the advantage on, and we were able to get some yards. I was happy with that.”

Senior quarterback Truman Juelsgaard will be back at full strength this week after suffering a minor injury to his right foot early in last week’s game.

“He was affected by a few things,” Bowen said. “Sort of his ability to run the ball and push off and make some throws. He missed a few that normally he would not have missed. But we’re in a mindset of always trying to take what the defense gives us.”

SM West’s defense was the focal point for the Lions heading into Week 3.

“They’ve got a very good defensive line,” Bowen said. “I think they’ve given up 6 points on the season. And it’s not just by accident, but by playing very well on defense. Shawnee Mission West has good players on that side of the ball, and they’re making it difficult for teams to score.”

But LHS has capitalized on its firm defense, too. That has allowed the Lions to take control of contests late during the first two weeks of the season. Bowen is aware of the difference his defenders are making on the field.

“We just have to keep emphasizing gap integrity, coverage responsibilities, all the things that go into sound defense,” he said. “The thing that it always comes down to is, can you get off blocks and tackle?”

Kickoff for Friday’s game is set for 7 p.m. at LHS.


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