Free at last

Nick Smith/PrepsKC

By Jim Bradford PrepsKC Senior Writer
Posted: October 3, 2015 - 12:33 AM

Shawnee Mission East has been rolling. The Lancers came into Friday night’s game with a 17-ggame winning streak.

The last team to beat the Lancers in a regular season game — way back in week six of the 2013 season — was Lawrence-Free State.

They were the last and now they are the latest.

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The Firebirds wrestled away control of the game late in the second quarter and shut out the high-scoring Lancers over the final 30 minutes on their way to an impressive 32-20 win at Shawnee Mission North.

“You have to come into every game expecting to win,” Free State running back Sam Skwarlo said. “We are really excited. We were finally able to put four quarters of football together tonight.”

The Firebirds were undoubtedly the best 1-3 in the state heading into the game and showed why.

“We knew were close,” Free State head coach Bob Lisher said. “Every game we have played, we’ve had a chance to win, but we just didn’t finish.”

They finished Friday night, ending the Lancers’ 17-game winning streak in the process.

You couldn’t knock the smile off of Lishers’ face on Friday night if you tried. It was as long-time coming for these Firebirds, who had been so close in the season-opener against Shawnee Mission West and then losing in heartbreaking fashion on a late fumble return for a score against Olathe North. Knocking off the top team in the state is just the shot in the arm that the Firebirds needed.

“That doesn’t hurt one bit,” Lisher said about the win. “It definitely feels good.”

The Firebirds parlayed an impressive six and a half minute drive to end the first half into a two-point halftime lead and never looked back. They shut out East in the second half and added a touchdown on another long drive (5:30) and a field goal on the tail end of a drive that ate up nearly five minutes of the fourth quarter clock.

While Bryce Torneden had a nice night — as usual — rushing for 134 yards, it was Sam Skwarlo that carried most of the water for the Firebirds as they went into ball-control mode.

He had three touchdowns on the night and rushed for 170 yards. The vaunted East defense allowed 337 yards on the ground and 54 yards through the air to the Firebirds, all while only racking up about 100 yards of offense after intermission.

“They outplayed us, they out hustled us, they out-everything’d us,” East head coach Dustin Delaney said. “They ran it down our throats tonight like no one has in the past couple of years.

“That is a really good team.”

Skwarlo had 107 of his 170 yards after halftime as the Firebirds took control.

“We just ate up the clock, like we knew we had to,” Skwarlo said.

The long, clock-eating drives are not normally the Firebirds calling card, but it was on Friday.

“That’s really not how we usually play, but it was tonight,” Skwarlo said. “We had to against a team like this to keep their offense off the field.”

The second half, that saw just 10 points scored, stood in stark comparison to a first half that featured six lead changes and 42 points.

East got on the board first five minutes in when Kaiser hooked up with Sky Tate for their first of two first-half touchdowns. This first came after the Lancers dodged an early bullet. They had coughed the ball up deep in their own end, held the Firebirds to a four and out and two plays later, Tate caught a 73-yard touchdown pass from Kaiser to put the Lancers up 7-0.

Free State answered with a 64-yard, nine-play drive that was capped by an eight-yard run by Skwarlo.

They added to their lead just seconds into the second quarter when Skwarlo scored his second touchdown of the game on a 15-yard run, capping an 81-yard, seven-play drive. A missed extra point on the first touchdown and a conversion on the second, put Free State up 13-7.

The Lancers then reclaimed the lead three minutes later when Kaiser hooked up with Tate again, connecting this time on a 33-yard scoring pass. The extra point put them up 14-13.

The see-saw first half continued when Torneden popped off a 5-yard run for a score just one minute later. The missed two-point conversion left the score at 19-14, Free State.

Less than a minute later, Wyatt Edmisten burst through the line and went untouched for a 60-yard touchdown. A missed two-point conversion left East up by just one, 20-19.

The Firebirds put together that nice drive to end the high-scoring half, eating up the last 6:34 of the half that was capped by a 28-yard field goal by Kameron Lake as the second-quarter clock expired, putting Free State up 22-20 at the half.