Fumble keys Olathe North win over Free State

By Jim Bradford PrepsKC Senior Writer
Posted: September 12, 2015 - 1:01 AM

It wasn’t pretty, but that really doesn’t matter.

Neither Olathe North or Lawrence-Free State put on much of a clinic Friday night at the Olathe District Activity Center, but when it came right down to it, well, it was a thing of beauty for the North faithful.

Isaiah Simmons scooped up a Free State fumble and ran it back 68 yards for a touchdown with 1:26 to play propelling the Eagles to a strangely thrilling 24-20 win over the Firebirds.

“We were all just hoping for one last chance,” Simmons said. “We just kept trying to rip that ball out of there.”

They did. Ryan Workman did as Sam Skwarlo took the ball over left tackle with less than two minutes to play. A first down would have essentially ended it for the Eagles. Simmons saw the ball bounce on the turf, his eyes as wide as saucers.

“I saw it hit the ground, and I said, ‘That’s mine, all mine,’” Simmons said. “I looked up and saw all green. I saw Torneden (the Free State quarterback) but I knew I had a blocker in front of me, so I just took off.”

The Eagles had their backs against during that final drive, trying to get the ball back to get one last chance to get on the board. The Eagles had turned the ball over on down near midfield with 4:09 to play and Free State picked up one first down with 2:13 to play. Then the Eagles started using their timeouts to stop the clock.

On a third-and-7 play, Skwarlo took the handoff and ran into the line. He didn’t make it to the ground with the ball.

“We just kept preaching to the guys to finish,” McCartney said. “We just had to finish what we started.”

The win moved the Eagles to 1-1 on the season and gave head coach Chris McCartney — the Eagles’ first-year head coach — his first career win. The loss dropped the hard-luck Firebirds to 0-2 on the season.

After Free State went up 14-8 four minutes into the second half, the Eagles answered with a 38-yard touchdown run by Vinnie Shabazz. The extra point gave them their first lead of the night.

The Firebirds then sent a snap over the head of the punter a few minutes later and the Eagles were up 17-14 heading into the fourth quarter.

The two teams traded a couple of punts before Free State reclaimed the lead with a 67-yard touchdown pass from Bryce Torneden to Zack Sanders with 5:08 to play.

The Firebirds were snake bit much of the night, as they were last week I a narrow loss to Shawnee Mission West.

They had two touchdowns called back on penalties on Friday and lost two points on the safety as well.

“Just way too many mistakes,” Free State head coach Bob Lisher said. “We can be a good team and good things will happen if we just eliminate the mistakes. In addition to the two touchdowns called back and the safety, the Firebirds committed eight penalties and lost two fumbles.

The Eagles weren’t much better in the penalty department, drawing 14 flags for a total of 130 yards.

Skwarlo led all rushers with 204 yards on 23 carries. Torneden had just 25 yards on 21 carries.

North quarterback Matt Wright had 97 yards on 14 carries and Shabazz had 128 on 27 carries.

The Eagles managed to tie the game midway through the second quarter when Wright went in untouched from 19 yards. The score came on the heels of a Free State fumble.

The Firebirds had stopped the Eagles most sustained drive of the night. A 13-play drive had the Eagles down to the Free State 7-yard line before the Firebirds stopped them on a fourth-and-2 play.

On the very next play, the Firebirds coughed the ball up after a 16-yard run by Skwarlo. The Eagles scored two plays later.

They missed a 35-yard field goal as time expired in the second quarter.

Skwarlo got the Firebirds on the board first with a 49-yard run down the right sideline.

Free State had 94 yards of offense at the half, but 49 of those came on their lone scoring play. Skwarlo had 10 carries for 91 yards in the first half and Torneden had just two yards on 10 carries.

North didn’t manage much more offense. They had 150 yards at half with Wright leading the way with 81 yards on 12 carries.