Free State High School backfield shows promise in 42-34 loss against De Soto
photo by: Mike Yoder
Free State football may have suffered a 42-34 loss in its season opener against De Soto on Friday, but the Firebirds did come closer to answering one of the season’s big questions: what their backfield will look like.
The new-look backfield — led by junior quarterback Jet Dineen and junior running back Dash Cleveland — certainly made an impression in the Firebirds’ first game of the pandemic-altered season.
Free State head coach Kevin Stewart was thankful for his team to play football for the first time in a year, especially on senior night.
“(Friday’s game) was really our first live action in a full year,” Stewart said. “(Friday’s game is) definitely a learning experience. I thought our guys played hard and I’m proud of them.”
Dineen rushed for 140 yards in the first half alone, finishing with 237 rushing yards and a touchdown. He also finished 5-of-14 for 105 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions through the air. Cleveland finished with 109 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
“Jet and Dash are good athletes and definitely showed their skill tonight,” Stewart said. “They’ve got some ability for sure, those two.”
Several times Dineen broke off runs of 20-plus yards, highlighted by a 36-yard burst in the third quarter after being hit by three Wildcats. That run also set up a 25-yard touchdown run for Cleveland. Cleveland finished with 109 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
Stewart opted for mostly run-pass option and designed run plays for Dineen, something the quarterback seemed to respond better to as the game went on. Stewart said personnel will heavily dictate the play-calling this season, but he’s looking to incorporate more RPO in the offense.
But Dineen had a difficult time keeping up with the De Soto offense, which got off to a blazing start. The Wildcats took control early, with three scores in the first quarter. The third touchdown — which was preceded by a Dineen interception — came on a 71-yard pass from senior quarterback Jackson Miller to senior wide receiver Austin Tabor.
While the 21-0 hole Free State found itself in at the end of the first quarter wasn’t ideal, the Firebirds responded well coming out of the break. Dineen connected with junior wide receiver Jake Patchen for a 22-yard score to cut the lead to 21-7.
Fighting back from that early deficit was a major positive for Stewart, while also showing the experience of the Wildcats
“(Free State) just showed a lot of heart tonight,” Stewart said of his team’s fight. “Really our offensive line as a unit kept plugging away. We just didn’t have enough.”
Even with De Soto responding with another score by way of a 3-yard run from Ethan Schultze, Dineen punched in another Free State touchdown with just over two minutes left in the half. Dineen broke off a 20-yard run with mere seconds before the half to get into the red zone, but it was called back for holding.
Both sides scored through the air, but the game was defined by a battle of the backfields. De Soto’s Miller rushed for 151 yards, with senior running back Tyson Priddy not far behind with 95 yards.
De Soto added a pair of touchdowns in the second half, as Miller connected with Tabor once again for a 32-yard touchdown and Priddy scored on a 30-yard run. For Free State, Cleveland scored twice, and junior tight end Manny Epelle added a 16-yard score.
Despite some shortcomings on both sides of the ball — rushing defense, Dineen’s two interceptions — the Firebirds showed plenty of promise. The offense in particular, led by that new backfield duo of Dineen and Cleveland.
Stewart recognizes his team is young and depth could be an issue this season, but he said playing a live game for the first time in over a year is a big step forward.
“Obviously we need to get a lot better,” Stewart said. “But at least we know where we’re at, and week two is a big improvement week.”
Free State is next scheduled to play Lincoln Prep on Friday, Sept. 11 at 7 p.m.
Free State, De Soto
Score by quarters
De Soto 21 7 7 7 — 42
Free State 0 14 13 7 — 34
DHS: Jackson Miller 14-148, Tyson Priddy 6-95, Garrett Kellner 10-42, Ethan Schultze 5-20, Tyler Schultze 4-18
FS: Jet Dineen 27-237, Dash Cleveland 15-109, Peyton Wheat 4-33, Dylan Farrel 2-9, Jake Kallenbach 2-3
DHS: Jackson Miller 6-8-129, Tyler Schultze 0-1-0
FS: Jet Dineen 5-14-105
DHS: Austin Tabor 3-109, Tyson Priddy 2-16, Ethan Schultze 1-4
FS: Jake Patchen 2-32, Manny Epelle 2-52, Matt Gabriel 1-21
HOW THEY SCORED:
7:39 — Garrett Kellner 1 run. Van Booven kick good. (DHS 7, FS 0)
2:52 — Jackson Miller 20 run. Van Booven kick good. (DHS 14, FS 0)
1:12 — Austin Tabor 71 pass from Miller. Van Booven kick good. (DHS 21, FS 0)
8:57 — Jake Patchen 22 pass from Dineen. Wood kick good. (DHS 21, FS 7)
5:15 — Ethan Schultze 3 run. Van Booven kick good. (DHS 28, FS 7)
2:17 — Jet Dineen 3 run. Wood kick good. (DHS 28, FS 14)
10:19 — Dash Cleveland 25 run. Wood kick no good. (DHS 28, FS 20)
5:20 — Austin Tabor 32 pass from Miller. Van Booven kick good. (DHS 35, FS 20)
1:19 — Dash Cleveland 10 run. Wood kick good. (DHS 35, FS 27)
11:19 — Tyson Priddy 30 run. Van Booven kick good. (DHS 42, FS 27)
1:40 — Manny Epelle 16 pass from Dineen. Wood kick good. (DHS 42, FS 34)