|Steffon Ward. KC Star.
The opening drive spanned 89 yards on 16 plays and ended when Joe Dineen took a carry in from a few yards out. After that the Free State offense completely fell apart and didn't score until SM West's second stringers came in in the second half.
On SM West's offensive possession following the Free State score the Vikings were able to put together a nice drive of their own--centered around key completions from AJ Verdini to Mitchell Wade and Joel Spiller--to get to the Free State 33-yard line. On the next play Verdini faked a handoff then stepped back and dropped a perfectly timed ball into the hands of Andre Maloney who'd beat the Free State secondary deep. The score gave the Vikings a 7-6 advantage.
Free State went three-and-out and was forced to punt on their next possession. Kyle McFarland, punting in place of the normal starter Saxon Mingus, accidentally kicked the ball of the back of the personal protector, Dineen, when the Vikings' defense came with a heavy punt-block rush. The ball squirmed around before Ben Lake managed to wrangle it and take it in from two yards out. The touchdown pushed SM West's lead to 14-6.
Free State continued with the erratic play on offense. They punted on their next possession and SM West was able to capitalize manufacturing a 32-yard field goal from Joey Reed to go up 17-6.
Free State's next possession showed some life when they found themselves in SM West territory, but McFarland was sacked on an all-important fourth down try and the Firebirds turned the ball over on downs. A few short plays later Verdini found fullback Steffon Ward in the flat on a screen pass which Ward turned into a 34-yard touchdown. The score pushed SM West's lead to 24-6.
Free State was forced to punt, again, and SM West regained possession near their own 40-yard line with just a minute left in the half. Verdini found Wade on a 25-yard completion which set the Vikings up at the Free State 27-yard line. Reed then booted true a 43-yard field goal as time expired on the half, giving SM West a 27-6 halftime lead.
As if the 21-point deficit wasn't enough of a blow, SM West came out firing on the opening kickoff of the second half. Brett Sterbach fielded the kickoff then reversed it to Maloney who zigged and zagged his way up the sideline into open field then turned on the afterburners and added SM West's fourth touchdown of the day. The successful two-point conversion gave SM West a comfortable 34-6 lead.
Free State was forced to punt, again, and McFarland kicked the ball off Dineen's back, again, which set SM West up deep in Free State territory. A few players later Sterbach added his 21st touchdown of the season on a two-yard run which put the Vikings ahead 41-6.
It wasn't until the 7:20 mark of the second half that Free State was finally able to score again when McFarland hit a wide open Tye Hughes in the back of the endzone on a 12-yard touchdown pass. A successful two-point conversion made things 41-14. But SM West came right back with a long run from Tory Powell, which set up a short touchdown run from him a few plays later, extending the lead to 48-14.
Free State's last gasp of the season came a few plays later when TJ Cobbs broke loose on a 78-yard touchdown run with 6:09 remaining in the fourth quarter. From there, SM West drained the clock and closed out the game.
SM West pushed their record to 11-1 with the victory, setting up a date in the 6A state title game with Hutchinson (10-2) next Saturday, November 24, in Topeka at 1 p.m. at Yager Stadium on the campus of Washburn University. For Free State the tough loss capped an excellent season which saw them go 10-2 and advance to the Sub-State round for just the third time in school history.
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