Free State football falls to 0-4 after 52-0 loss to Mill Valley

photo by: Chance Parker

Free State's junior running back Elijah Harshaw uses the block to cut up the field against Mill Valley at MVHS on Friday night on Oct. 2, 2020.

Shawnee — A light round of applause could be heard from the Free State sideline following a holding penalty by Mill Valley on a punt return just before the final play of the opening period.

It proved to be one of the few positive moments of an otherwise lopsided start to the Firebirds’ 52-0 road loss to the Jaguars Friday night — a predictable result for a young Free State football team taking on the defending Class 5A state champions. FSHS fell to 0-4 this year.

FSHS struggled to get much going on offensively all night, while seemingly having no answer for Mill Valley’s ground game on the defensive side of the ball. The Jaguars (3-2, No. 3 in Class 5A) pitched their first shutout of the year, and there was a running clock by the end of the contest.

It was the latest tough test for the Firebirds, who have been outscored by 125 points through the first four games of the season.

“I think every week our guys are getting better,” Free State coach Kevin Stewart said. “The scores are not showing it; that’s disappointing. But I think the defense played better at times.

“But the offense hasn’t done much the last two weeks,” he added. “We haven’t seen much on offense.”

It was evident on the first play of the game that it was going to be a long night for the Firebirds. Mill Valley senior Jacob Hartman took the opening kickoff return all the way to Free State’s 28-yard line.

But that was when the FSHS defense delivered one of its few strong responses of the contest.

Junior Preston Tran recorded a key tackle on a short run attempt by Mill Valley. Senior linebacker Gage Callaghan then deflected a pass on third down, which forced the hosts to settle for a field goal attempt after failing to get a first down on three tries. Senior Chris Tennant missed the ensuing 38-yard field goal attempt.

Free State junior running back Elijah Harshaw then picked up 16 yards on the team’s first offensive play, signaling early momentum for the visitors.

“That (stop) was huge,” Stewart said. “I think they were fired up, and came out expecting to win. I’m proud of the guys for having that attitude.”

But the Firebirds were forced to punt just three plays later.

This time around, Mill Valley made sure to put the ball in the end zone to take a lead and never look back. The Jaguars scored four plays later on a 14-yard touchdown run by senior back Quin Wittenauer.

The Firebirds then fumbled on their next offensive possession, and Wittenauer found paydirt on a 2-yard touchdown run just moments later. The game was never really in doubt after that.

Wittenauer scored the first three touchdowns, finishing with nearly 100 rushing yards on 15 carries in the first half alone. Sophomore quarterback Hayden Jay, who was in for the team’s injured starting signal caller, directed a Mill Valley offense well enough through the air to help his team jump out to a commanding lead.

“Our offense has to do better,” Stewart said. “We are not moving the ball; we are not being productive. We are just not getting it done.”

It wasn’t long ago that the Firebirds were overwhelming opponents in every facet of the game. Yet a combination of an inexperienced roster and a daunting schedule has led to some lopsided results to begin the 2020 campaign.

That doesn’t mean there weren’t signs of improvement for Free State, however. Junior quarterback Jet Dineen delivered a strike down the sideline that seemed destined for points, had senior Drew Bradford been able to make the grab. Dineen also had a remarkable 32-yard run early in the third period.

Junior center Tyler Gourley and seniors Ian Shire, Alec Wilson and Luke Wheeler-Halsted still made strong blocks along the FSHS offensive line. On defense, juniors Brian Lane and Quez Lee were both praised by the announcer after they made impressive tackles in the second quarter.

In the end, though, it wasn’t enough to compete with an opponent that is seeking its third state title in five years.

“We are playing good teams,” Stewart said. “We have to execute really well against a team like that.”

Free State will travel to Odessa (Mo.) next week, which was announced via social media on Friday. The Firebirds were originally supposed to play Bishop Carroll on the road, but were told earlier this week that they couldn’t make the trip because of travel restrictions imposed by the school district.

“They are a smaller class, but I think they have won 20 games in a row,” Stewart said. “I assume they are probably a good football team.”

Mill Valley 52, Free State 0

FSHS | MV

First downs 8 | 20

Rushes-yards 8-88 | 37-241

Passing yards 58 | 151

Total offense 146 | 392

Fumbles-lost 3-2 | 0-0

Interceptions 0 | 0

Penalties-yards 5-35 | 8-75

Score by quarters

Free State 0 0 0 0 — 0

Mill Valley 14 14 14 10 — 52

Individual statistics

Rushing

FSHS: Jet Dineen 9-53; Elijah Harshaw 7-33; Jacobee Williams 3-3; Dash Cleveland 7-16 Sacks: 6-(minus 17).

MV: Quin Wittenauer 22-166; Hayden Jay 10-75; Jacob Hartman 1-3; Aaron Marks 2-4; Josh Anderson 1-3. Sacks 1-(minus 10).

Passing

FSHS: Jet Dineen 4-for-13 for 58 yards

MV: Jay 9-for-16 for 151 yards.

Receiving

FSHS: Jake Patchen 3-58; Manny Epelle 1-0.

MV: Kendrick Jones 3-55; Jacob Hartman 5-89; Simon Wunder 1-7.

HOW THEY SCORED

First quarter

6:06 — Quin Wittenauer 14 run. Chris Tennant kick good. (MV 7, FS 0)

4:10 — Wittenauer 2 run. Tennant kick good. (MV 14, FS 0)

Second quarter

9:25 — Wittenauer 24 run. Tennant kick good. (MV 21, FS 0)

4:20 — Hayden Jay 8 run. Tennant kick good. (MV 28, FS 0)

Third quarter

7:52 — Jay 24 run. Tennant kick good. (MV 35, FS 0)

2:34 — Jacob Hartman 53 pass from Jay. Tennant kick good. (MV 42, FS 0)

Fourth quarter

11:55 — Wittenauer 4 run. Jesse Wood kick good. (MV 49, FS 0)

5:55 — Tennant 48 field goal. (MV 52, FS 0)

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