By Adam Sullivan PrepsKC staff writer
In the 16-year history of the City Showdown between Lawrence and Lawrence Free State not one game has had the hype of this one coming in. Both squads were 7-1 looking for a district championship, and Lawrence was playing for a Sunflower league title.
Last season Lawrence won the City Showdown 20-0 and eliminated Free State from making the playoffs. Free State quarterback Kyle McFarland hasn’t forgot about that game, and his team set out to make this year different.
“We kept saying all week long this year had to be different, something had to change.” McFarland said.
He and his fellow Firebirds would answer that call as they defeated Lawrence 28-14 to capture a district championship.
“This is the greatest feeling I’ve ever had after a football game,” McFarland said while surrounded by students after the win.
Lawrence got the night started on their first drive that took ten plays and a little over three minutes. Quarterback Brad Strauss led the Lions down the field and eventually found Erick Mayo for 9 yards putting the Lions ahead 6-0 with six minutes, 29 seconds remaining in the first.
Both teams would then play in a stalemate for the next three drives as both defenses forced consecutive punts. On Free State’s fifth drive of the night they were finally getting some momentum offensively, but on the fourth play of the drive McFarland dropped back to pass but was intercepted by Erick Mayo who returned it 26 yards setting up a Lions first and 10 from their own 46.
Free State’s defense would keep pressure on Strauss and force the Lions to go three and out, minimizing the effect of the turnover. The next Firebird drive would be one to swing momentum to the away side. Free State took 11 plays and over three minutes setting up a 1-yard run by Joe Dineen giving Free State a 7-6 lead at the half.
After Free State forced a Lion punt to open the second half, McFarland went back to work leading the Firebirds seven plays including a fourth down conversion that led to a 15-yard TD pass to Tye Hughes putting Free State ahead 14-6 with 7:46 left in the third quarter.
Lawrence would quickly respond, as their first play of the next drive was a 64-yard bomb from Strauss to Will Thompson giving the Lions a first and goal. The next four plays wouldn’t be as easy however, as the Firebirds pushed Lawrence back to a fourth and five led by two Free State sacks. Strauss would be unable to find Erick Mayo in the end zone on fourth down giving Free State the ball and momentum right back.
“That goaline stand really helped us out and put the pressure back on them,” McFarland said.
The Lions would get the ball back with 5:21 left in the third quarter still down 14-6, and Strauss wouldn’t let his team go down without a fight. He helped lead the Lions on a five play drive using long passes to Erick Mayo and Will Thompson to help set up a 19-yard pass to Thompson with 2:43 remaining in the third tying things at 14-14.
McFarland seemed to be competing with Strauss at times for player of the night, and on the ensuing Firebird drive McFarland showed why he’s considered one of the top quarterbacks in the state. On a third and long McFaland bobbled a low snap, picked it up and scrambled past Lion defenders eventually spotting a wide-open Blake Winslow for a 40-yard gain. A few plays later and McFarland found Zach Bickling for a 3-yard touchdown pass for the go-ahead score putting Free State ahead 21-14 with 11:47 left in the game.
Free State would continue to put the pressure on Strauss as the Firebirds racked up eight sacks on the night, and forced another Lion punt.
“Our defense was great tonight, we knew we had to keep pressure on him (Strauss) and we did just that,” Free State head coach Bob Lisher said.
Free State would take over at their 48-yard line with 10 minutes left. The Firebirds would use a slow eight-play drive taking off five minutes of clock hoping to ice the game. McFarland was set up with a red zone attempt for Free State, but Drake Hofer kept the Lions hopes alive with an interception in the endzone.
The following play would be one that would change the night for good, Free State pressured Strauss into scrambling which he then threw up a pass tipped by Firebirds and eventually landing in the hands of lineman Cody Stanclift who ran it back 7 yards for the touchdown giving Free State the final 28-14 lead.
“Cody’s touchdown was a huge play, it really gave us all the momentum we needed to pull out the win,” Lisher said.
Lawrence wouldn’t be able to respond, and both teams traded fumbled to end the game. McFarland finished the night 15 of 22 with 214 yards passing with two touchdowns, and two interceptions. He also added 49 yards rushing on 21 carries. Leading Free State on the receiving end was Blake Winslow who caught two passes for 75 yards.
McFarlands counterpart Brad Strauss ended his night 18-36 with 192 yards passing, two touchdowns, one interception, and one fumble.
With the win Free State ties the series record at 8-8, and more importantly takes home a district championship and will host a first round playoff game next week.
Lawrence drops to 7-2 on the season and will be the district runner up also heading to the playoffs.
Could we see a rematch a few weeks from now in sub-state?
”I definitely hope so, it’d be fun.” McFarland said about a possible rematch.
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