Preview: Free State looks to remain unbeaten against Shawnee Mission Northwest

photo by: Landon Cory/Journal-World photo

Johnnie Williams runs down the sideline for Free State during the Firebirds' game against Olathe East in Lawrence on Friday, Sept. 15, 2023.

Coming off a 3-0 start, the Free State football team will head into its second straight home game this Friday night, with kickoff against Shawnee Mission Northwest set for 7 p.m. at Free State High School. This game will be part of the homecoming celebrations for Free State.

The Firebirds have found different ways to win games entering the halfway point of the season, and as their Sunflower League schedule heats up, FSHS coach Kevin Stewart understands how important it is to stay composed, even with his team riding high.

“Overall the coaches and players have a lot more confidence,” Stewart said. “We challenged the guys to not be satisfied with being good. We’re trying to be great and great teams improve all the time.”

The last two games for FSHS featured standout performances on the defensive end, as the Firebird defense held its opponents in Olathe Northwest and Olathe East to a combined 10 points over eight quarters of football.

Despite the offense not scoring as much as it did in Week 1, the defense has allowed the Firebirds to stay in games down the stretch, with players such as Johnnie Williams and Hyrum Vaeono continuing to lead on that side of the ball.

“Great teams have really good defenses,” Stewart said. “Offense is always harder to execute at any level. Our offense is continuing to improve but our defense has been really solid for us.”

As for the offense, quarterback Wesley Edison continues to lead his team’s rushing and passing attacks, while remaining aggressive despite the points being harder to come by over the last several contests.

With receivers Landon Leipold and Devon Hamilton continuing to lead the way offensively, Stewart trusts that when it matters most, his offense will find ways to score points.

“We really just told them to focus on the fundamentals,” Stewart said. “It’s really just the basic stuff that we have to get better at.”

Heading into Week 4 of the season, Shawnee Mission Northwest enters this matchup fresh off two close losses to top-ranked Olathe North and Mill Valley over the last two weeks of play.

Even with the Cougars’ 1-2 record, Stewart understands the challenges they present, and how the visitors could give Free State problems if they execute.

“I think they’re a dangerous team and they’ve gotten better every single week,” Stewart said. “They have played tougher teams and they still have gotten better. They have a very strong offensive and defensive line. If they’re more physical we’re going to have a hard time on Friday.”

FSHS enters its fourth game of the season maintaining all its momentum from the early part of the fall, hoping to put on a show for its fans on homecoming Friday night.

“We’re excited to be back at home again,” Stewart said. “We told them after this game, half our home games are over. We have to take advantage of playing at home any opportunity we get.”

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