Free State makes a statement
By David Svoboda PrepsKC staff writer
When two teams with a combined nine victories and just one defeat get together, something’s got to give.
But after Lawrence Free State’s 28-0 whitewashing of previously unbeaten Shawnee Mission East on Friday night, even the most ardent Free State supporter would have had to admit that this effort was even more impressive than one might have imagined.
The Firebirds, now 5-1, dominated in all facets – offense, defense and special teams – in sending the Lancers, now 5-1 as well, home on this blustery early-fall night searching for positives.
“Our defense played phenomenal tonight,” a victorious Free State Coach Bob Lisher said. “When our defense plays like that, we’re a pretty good team.”
The two teams traded nervous opening possessions, and turnovers, before Free State scored the game’s first points – and, as it turned out, the only points it would need – with a fourth-down gamble late in the first quarter.
Faced with a fourth-and-five from the East 21, Free State was in a bit of an offensive no-man’s-land. They were too close to the goal line to pooch punt, and likely too far to attempt a field goal. Lisher opted to go for it, and his team rewarded his decision.
Quarterback Kyle McFarland, who ended the night with an admittedly less-than-stellar 58 yards through the air on just a 3-of-11 performance, hit fellow senior Tye Hughes on a perfect strike on a crossing pattern and Hughes streaked into the end zone to put the Firebirds on top 7-0 after the PAT.
“We were kind of in that ‘tweener’ land, and I thought that our defense could hold them if we didn’t get it, and we were fortunate enough to punch it in,” Lisher said.
The score remained right there until midway through the second quarter, when Free State took command for good on one of the strangest two-minute sequences you’ll see anywhere. Enter the Free State special teams and defense.
With East backed up on its own seven, the Lancers sent out Connor Rellihan to punt out of his own end zone. After receiving the snap and starting to his left – as if to get a better angle for a rugby-style punt – Rellihan found himself caught in between punting and running for whatever he could get.
The resulting play found the ball floating in the air, where it was grabbed up by Free State’s Joe Dineen at the two and taken into the end zone for an improbable touchdown. The PAT made it 14-0, and the only question at that point was as to who was more stunned – the partisan Firebird Homecoming crowd or the Lancer sideline.
Just three plays into East’s next offensive possession, however, the Lancers went from shocked to numb.
Quarterback Jordan Darling, who was harassed all night and sacked seven times by a relentless Free State D, threw his third interception of a nightmarish first half into the arms of Demarko Bobo, who returned it 24 yards for the score that made it 21-0 Firebirds with just over 4:30 left in the opening half. That’s where the score remained going into intermission.
Darling ended the night just 9-of-27 for 74 yards and thoroughly frustrated.
“It started up front with our pass rush,” Lisher said. “We had pressure on him. We had a lot of tackles for loss, and our defense backs were snugging up and getting some tight coverage. All-in-all that was a pretty doggone good defensive effort.”
There was only one second-half touchdown, but it was a beauty, as McFarland hit junior wideout Khadre Lane with a surgical 36-yard strike on a stutter-go move down the home team sideline to make it 28-0 Free State with less than 10 minutes left in the contest. Remember the earlier McFarland passing line? Yep, he ended the night with just three completions, and two were for scores.
The teams traded possessions filled with runs over the game’s final minutes with the outcome virtually assured.
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