The Olathe North Eagles knew Lawrence Free State would be gunning for them.
After handing the Firebirds their lone defeat of the season seven weeks ago, the Eagles expected another hard-fought game.
But once again the Eagles did enough down the stretch and secured a 22-18 victory at Olathe District Activity Center. The win puts Olathe North in the 6A state semifinals.
“Things went our way. They had a heck of game plan,” Olathe North coach Gene Wier said. “They took it to us, and we had to regroup at half and we shut them down in the second half.”
Free State, 9-2, built some momentum early on, taking its opening drive into the end zone. After throwing for much of the drive, senior quarterback Joe Dineen ran it in from 8 yards out making it a 6-0 lead early.
The Eagles, 8-3, got things going in the second quarter when Isaiah Simmons picked off Dineen and returned it into Firebird territory.
After a penalty extended the drive, Olathe North’s Venus Triplett scored from 10 yards out, and the Eagles took a 7-6 lead.
It did not take long for Free State to strike back. Dineen connected with Keith Loneker, who broke a few tackles and ran for a 56-yard touchdown. Free State again failed to convert, and the score was 12-7.
Following a quick series by the Eagles, Dineen went back to Loneker once again this time from 9 yards out making it an 18-7 advantage.
So going into halftime Free State appeared to have the momentum.
“The main thing we had to do was get them calmed down at halftime,” Wier said of his Eagles. “I told them we were ahead by that much in the first game and that game went right down to the wire too.”
In their first chance of the second half, Olathe North took advantage of some big plays including a 24-yard pass from Cole Murphy to Chaz Burgess, cutting the lead to 18-15.
Meanwhile, Free State was not having success moving the ball down the field.
And turnovers became the story of the second half for Free State. One of the biggest turnovers came when Dineen fumbled deep inside Eagles’ territory. It was Dineen’s fifth turnover of the game and second fumble.
“We do that against any good team especially as athletic as they are, you’re asking for it,” Lawrence Free State coach Bob Lisher said.
The Eagles ultimately took advantage when Marcel Spears when on a jet sweep and scored a TD from 16 yards out. That put Olathe North up for good.
“We should have gone to it a little sooner,” Wier said of the play.
Free State had one more chance with 96 yards to go, but Olathe North’s defense held firm, forcing the sixth and final turnover when Burgess picked off a pass that sealed the victory.
“We pressed a little bit here and there,” Lisher said. “When you press like that you can make some turnovers. Our guys didn’t make some things happen, and they did.”