SM West tops Free State in another classic

By Jim Bradford PrepsKC Senior Writer
Posted: September 5, 2015 - 12:54 AM

Potter gets big interception, West survives opener


LAWRENCE, Kan. — Jason Potter was playing in his first varsity game for Shawnee Mission West on Friday night.

And, admittedly, the junior didn’t have a very good first half.

He made up for it in the second half, intercepting a Free State pass in the end zone early in the fourth quarter with the Vikings clinging to a one-point lead.

The interception of a Bryce Torneden pass ended the Firebirds last real threat and propelled the Vikings to a 34-26 win over the Firebirds in the season opener for both teams.

“Everyone was telling me that I had to just shake off the first half,” Potter said. “I just didn’t play well and I knew I had to play better.”

He did just that, helping shut down the Firebird passing attack along the rest of his Viking teammates. After going 8-for-12 in the first half, Torneden threw a pair of interceptions in the second half.

“(Jason) did a great job tonight,” West head coach Tim Callaghan said. “That was a huge play.”

The interception came a handful of plays after the Firebirds thought they had taken the lead on a 28-yard touchdown pass, but an illegal man downfield penalty brought the ball back out to the 33-yard line

Down by just one, the Firebirds battled back to get the ball down to the 8-yard line before an offensive pass interference in the end zone brought the ball out to the 23. On the next play, Torneden went looking for Drew Tochtrop on a slant, but Potter stepped in front right at the goal line and returned it to the 26.

“A lot went wrong tonight for us,” Free State head coach Bob Lisher said. “We just didn’t execute when we needed to.”

Nine plays later, the Vikings’ Rahjee Byers scored his second touchdown of the night and the Vikings were on their way to a season-opening win, avenging last year’s season-opening loss to the same Firebird team.

The Firebirds took the opening kickoff and methodically marched down the field to take an early 6-0 lead when Sam Skwarlo scampered in for the score from two yards out, capping a 15-play, 66-yard drive that pasted nearly eight minutes.

The Vikings didn’t touch the ball until there was just a tick over four minutes left in the first quarter.

After a nice 55-yard run on the first play for scrimmage, Jason Meeker was carted off the field on a cart with an apparent right knee injury. He didn’t return.

“It looks like he broke his ankle,” Callaghan said. “That’s a tough loss.”

That didn’t stop the Vikings, though. They scored two plays later when Adam Rellihan went in from seven yards out. An extra point gave the Vikings their first lead at 7-6.

Byers stepped in and took the load for the Vikings with Meeker on the sidelines. He rushed for 120 yards and two scores in the win.

“I felt good,” he said with a smile. “I felt like the man.” It felt even better being my first game back.” Byers broke his shoulder last year and Friday’s game was his first in a while.

They added another touchdown five minutes later when Rellihan scored on a 1-yard run on the tail end of their longest drive of the first half, an eight-play drive that covered 65 yards and about three minutes.

Just when the Vikings looked like they were about to run away and hide, Free State used a couple of big pass plays to get out of a deep hole in their own end and tied the score at 14 on a Torneden to Logan McKinney 51-yard touchdown pass.

Then, the Vikings put the ball on the ground on the first pay of their next drive. Free State turned that into another score when Torneden went in from the 1-yard line, capping a seven-play, 66-yard drive, putting the Firebirds up 20-14.

Not to be outdone, the Vikings followed up with a seven-play scoring drive of their own when Byers scored on a 1-yard run to put the Vikings up 21-20 after the Jonah Stremel extra point.

Free State reclaimed the lead with 3:47 left in the third quarter on a Torneden to Tochtrop 20-yard pass, but West answered two minutes later on a Nigil Houston 12-yard run, putting them up 27-26 and setting the stage for Potters’ late-game heroics.

Torneden finished with 128 yards rushing and 191 yard passing in the loss.

Rellihan had 128 yards through the air for West.