Preview: Free State football looking for defensive step forward, sixth straight win

photo by: Carter Gaskins/Special to the Journal-World

Free State's Devon Hamilton (2) celebrates Landon Leipold's (3) touchdown Friday, Sept. 29, 2023, at Shawnee Mission South High School.

Putting its 5-0 record on the line, the Free State football team will head back on the road once again to take on Shawnee Mission North Friday, with kickoff set for 7 p.m. at Shawnee Mission North High School.

After another dominant 49-24 win last week for Free State over Shawnee Mission South, the Firebirds aim to finish their last road game of the regular season strong, looking to go to 6-0 heading into the City Showdown game next week.

“The message this week is that this is a very important game,” FSHS coach Kevin Stewart said. “We have to get better on defense and they’ve responded to that.”

Despite the 25-point margin of victory against the Raiders, the Firebirds will look to get back on track on the defensive side of the ball this week, after several long offensive plays kept Shawnee Mission South in the game throughout the early stretches last Friday.

Finding different ways to get the defense going has been the message this week for Stewart’s ball club, as he hopes that group understands its assignments as it goes against an aggressive Bison offense Friday night.

“I think we’ve had a couple good practices so far,” Stewart said. “The main thing is everyone has to do their job. It’s really about everyone being accountable and being fundamentally sound.”

As for the offensive side of the ball, quarterback Wesley Edison now has over 500 rushing yards through the first five games of 2023, while his passing yards total is at 833 after he threw for 166 yards on the road last week.

Running back Grant Lincoln, meanwhile, has over 300 rushing yards in 2023 and made the biggest play of the game last week with a 62-yard run on the first play from scrimmage to start the Firebirds offense off strong.

With the offense still firing on all cylinders, Stewart hopes that players like Edison and Lincoln can continue to lead Free State with success both on the ground and in the passing game.

“I think the offense has gotten a lot better,” Stewart said. “We’ve told them to continue improving the things that we’re not strong at. They kind of motivate each other in different ways.”

The Bison (1-4) are coming off a hard-fought loss to Lawrence High last week, but have still managed to score at least 20 points in each of the first five games of their 2023 campaign.

As the SMN offense poses a tall task for the Firebirds, Stewart understands how much his defense will have to rise to the occasion, with the Bison always being a threat to score at any point.

“They’ve got several good players including their running back,” Stewart said. “Last week against Lawrence High, they ran a lot of tempo and that is difficult for anyone to stop. We have to be very sound.”

The home stretch of the season is now approaching for the Firebirds, but their message still remains clear as they aim to stay unbeaten on the year.

“We need to realize how important this game is,” Stewart said. “Our guys are going to have to do their job this week. We’re going to have to come out and play really good football.”


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