Lions, Firebirds both facing tough offenses in Week 5 football clashes

Lawrence High defenders Avion Nelson (1) and Evan Bannister (11) come over the top of an Olathe East quarterback Austin Berggren during the first quarter on Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021 at Lawrence High School. (Photo by Nick Krug/Special to the Journal-World)

Last week, Lawrence High’s football team was caught off guard and lost at Mill Valley. Now, the Lions get another chance to prove they can handle a big-time opponent.

On Friday night, LHS (3-1) will take a road trip to face a hot Shawnee Mission Northwest team (2-2) that’s scored more than 50 points in each of its past two games.

The Lions’ defense struggled to contain the run last week at Mill Valley, and LHS coach Clint Bowen knows the Lions can’t afford to be sloppy this week.

“We did not have a good week of preparations, and it showed,” he said. “We’re still a young team with 18 new starters. And I think we lost sight of how we got to 3-0, and that was by locking in and practicing with a purpose.”

In practices this week, Bowen said the Lions have been focusing on discipline and confidence.

“If you’re not willing to go out on Monday through Thursday and put in the type of effort that this game requires, then you’re going to have negative results,” he said. “It’s a learning opportunity for players.”

LHS showed sparks of life in the fourth quarter last week, proving to Bowen that his group can flip the switch when needed. His offense generated two momentum-shifting touchdowns in the fourth quarter when the Lions needed it most.

Bowen credited the senior class for that. He said the senior leaders stepped up this week in practice, as well.

“I’m really proud of (senior linebacker) Evan Bannister,” Bowen said. “I’ve noticed him taking a more active role, being more vocal at practice. (Quarterback) Truman (Juelsgaard) is doing a nice job of getting guys moving and getting them lined up. As a team, there’s been enough to understand that we have a good football team.”

So does Shawnee Mission Northwest, and Bowen said he knows coach Bo Black and the Cougars will be ready to give the Lions a serious challenge.

“He is a very good offensive coach,” Bowen said. “They have an offense that allows them to spread you out. They throw the ball well in terms of short, quick passes.”

He continued: “Our defense has a heck of a challenge. Offensively, we’ve got to get back out and establish what we’re meant to do. And that’s our tempo and getting our run game going and getting our shots when we take them.”

Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. at Shawnee Mission North District Stadium.

Firebirds ready for unbeaten Jags

Fresh off a 21-13 win over Gardner Edgerton, Free State will have a chance for revenge against a formidable foe — unbeaten Mill Valley.

The Jaguars (4-0) are back-to-back Class 5A state champions, and last year they blanked the Firebirds, 52-0. When they come to Lawrence on Friday, they’ll bring a potent rushing attack and a star quarterback, Hayden Jay, who’s proven he can control the offense.

Free State coach Kevin Stewart said the Firebirds’ approach this week will be the same as it has been all season: “Do what we do well. We have to be playing good, fundamental football.”

Stewart said Free State (3-1) would need another big game from senior quarterback Jet Dineen, and that the defensive line would have to step up if the Firebirds want to slow down the Jaguars’ rushers.

“They have a lot of options,” Stewart said. But Free State has some resources to keep them in check. In particular, Stewart said senior defensive end Brian Lane could be in position to have a big game.

Stewart also emphasized the importance of converting third downs, an element of the Free State offense that he was impressed by last week.

Stewart knows that this game, if it goes well for the Firebirds, could be a huge momentum booster for the rest of the season. And he believes his team is excited about facing yet another tough test.

“The main thing we’ve been telling them is that you guys have a chance to be a good football team,” Stewart said. “We’ve been close, but we have to win those games.”

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. Friday at Free State High.


Welcome to the new Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.