Firebirds hoping to stay hot in opening round of 6A state playoffs

photo by: Emma Pravecek, Journal-World Photo

Free State lineman Calvin Clements (77) lifts running back Tay Ware (5) into the air after a touchdown during the game against Shawnee Mission South on Friday, Sept. 30, 2022.

Riding high after four consecutive wins, the ninth-seeded Free State High football team will open postseason play at 7 p.m. Friday night, with a first-round matchup at No. 8 seed Wichita East.

Fresh off a 31-19 win over previously unbeaten Olathe North a week ago and a City Showdown rivalry win over Lawrence High the week before that, the Firebirds enter the postseason at 5-3 and with a ton of confidence.

“I’m just really excited about the momentum we’ve built over the last four weeks,” FSHS coach Kevin Stewart said. “Our guys were at a point in the season where they could have given up or they could have put their heads down, but they didn’t do that. I think that makes us feel like we’ve got a chance to win games in the playoffs.”

Throughout the season, Free State leaned on its ground game and offensive line to spark the offense, with running back Tay Ware and quarterback Wesley Edison racking up most of the Firebirds’ rushing yards. That figures to be the plan this week in Wichita.

The offensive line play, led by Baylor-commitment Calvin Clements, has been a major strength for the Firebirds all season, and Stewart hopes that strength will carry them to a deep postseason run.

“Our offensive line has been pretty dominant the last two weeks and that’s what’s given us a chance to win,” Stewart said. “They’ve got to continue to execute well and in order to win this week, we definitely have to be able to run the football. We also need to be able to throw the ball a little bit.”

Defensively, FSHS has shown improvement throughout the last four games by creating turnovers and dominating the line of scrimmage.

With two of their last three games being decided by one score, Stewart understands how important turnovers will be if Free State hopes to advance to the regional round of the playoffs.

“I think our defense has gotten a lot better at understanding how to play hard, and this week will be a test,” Stewart said. “The last few weeks we’ve been seeing teams that can run the ball and we’ve stopped the run fairly well.”

The Aces (5-3) have also had a strong second half to their season, winning three of their last four games with the one loss coming last week to Bishop Carroll, 34-30.

“They have an explosive offense,” Stewart said. “They can score from any distance, anytime. So it’s going to be tough on that front.

“I just want to see them leave it all on the field now,” Stewart added. “The only thing you can really control is your effort at this point. We don’t want to regret not playing hard no matter what.”


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