Preview: Free State football looking for defensive boost in Week 2

photo by: Mike Gunnoe/Journal-World Photo

Lawrence Free State linebacker Tyler Jeffries, tackles Olathe West’s Elijah Hakim, Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023.

After winning its opening game of the 2023 season, the Free State football team will look to pick up where it left off from a week ago with another road game this week, this one coming against Olathe Northwest at 7 p.m. Friday night at the College Boulevard Activity Center.

Following the commanding 47-29 win over Olathe West last Thursday, the Firebirds (1-0) aim to make it 2-0 in the early part of the season. They are set to face off against a tough-minded Ravens (0-1) squad that fell to top-ranked Mill Valley last week.

Coach Kevin Stewart knows how eager his team is to hold onto the momentum from the emphatic road victory to begin its 2023 campaign.

“It was certainly a team effort last week,” Stewart said. “We had a number of guys step up offensively and defensively we made some mistakes but we also made some really key plays at crucial times.”

Senior quarterback Wesley Edison started his finale campaign off strong with over 500 combined yards of offense, including having over 300 yards passing against a tough Owls defense last Thursday.

The growth from junior to senior year for Edison may have surprised some, but for Stewart and the Firebirds, it was a welcome sign that the best is yet to come for their quarterback and the rest of the explosive Free State offense.

“I knew he could throw the ball because he shows it in practice,” Stewart said. “Some of the throws he made and the timing he made them in were really spot on. If he can continue that it’s going to be really hard for anyone to stop, but now other teams are going to be prepared for that.”

As for the Firebirds’ defense, Stewart knows the potential is there for that group to take another step heading into its second game.

FSHS gave up 29 points to Olathe West just a week ago, and there are still ways for the defense to continue to dominate, especially in the secondary. Stewart hopes that his experienced group will limit the big plays heading into another crucial Sunflower League matchup.

“For the defense it really comes down to executing and making plays in situational football,” Stewart said. “We showed at times we can be dominant but the end result is we gave up 29 points. Defensively I like our talent but we still have to improve on the situational stuff.”

Regarding the Firebirds’ opponent this week, Olathe Northwest will look to get its first win of the season following the lopsided loss to Mill Valley in Week 1, and they certainly have the talent on both sides to give the Firebirds a game in Olathe Friday night.

Despite the Ravens not being able to keep up with the highly ranked Jaguars, Stewart understands that this week’s matchup will be a tough battle all the way through, with the Ravens still posing several challenges on both sides of the ball.

“I think they’re a really good football team,” Stewart said. “They were very physical and aggressive last week and they didn’t back down from Mill Valley. I think we have an opportunity to have some success but they’re not going to make it easy.”

For Stewart and the Firebirds, the message still remains the same from last week, and that is to find a way to win the football game.

“We just have to do our best to go 1-0,” Stewart said. “This game presents its challenges and we just have to try and win this one game. It’ll be a tough football game but if we play well we’re going to have a good shot.”


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