The complete LHS vs. Free State football preview

A comprehensive breakdown of all the scenarios and storylines heading into the city showdown

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Kenna McNally

LHS football players link arms as they walk out for the first football game of the season Sep. 2 against Olathe East.

By Cuyler Dunn, Jack Ritter, and Andrew Phalen

Preview

The Lawrence High School Chesty Lions will host the Free State Firebirds in the annual city showdown Friday, Oct. 22, looking to defend last year’s win in the storied rivalry.

Free State (6-1) currently sits in a four-way tie for second in the west, with Lawrence High (5-2) right behind them in a tie for sixth. 

Both teams have had stretches of dominance, trading wins and losses with common opponents.

Free State’s one loss came to Olathe North, a team LHS defeated last week. Lawrence High’s two losses came to Shawnee Mission Northwest and Mill Valley, two teams Free State defeated during the course of the season.

The game will come down to the high-powered Free State offense taking on the lockdown LHS defense.

For Free State, the driving force behind their success is the offense. In five of their seven games, they scored over 33 points, all of them ending in wins. Their only time scoring under 20 points was their loss to Olathe North.

They are led by senior quarterback Jet Dineen, who can make big plays on the ground and through the air. Coming from a long string of Dineen’s who went on to play at the collegiate level. 

For the Lions, their strength comes from the defensive side of the ball. With former NCAA Division 1 defensive coordinator Clint Bowen at the helm and highly lauded defensive coordinator Jeffrey Lyster, the Lion’s defense has been revitalized into one of the best in the state. In the off-season, Bowen brought in multiple former defensive players that played under him at Kansas to coach the defense. They have brought knowledge, experience and energy to the defensive lineup. 

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The Lions are led on defense by first-year senior cornerback Avion Nelson, junior defensive lineman Lance Basset and senior captain linebacker Evan Bannister. Along with being a tough defense to break throughout the course of the game, the Lions have proven to come up with big stops in clutch moments late in games. 

In their win against Olathe North last week, the defense made a huge 4th down stop late in the game which allowed the offense to set up a last second game-winning field goal.

In both LHS losses this season they surrendered over 20 points. In their five wins, they’ve held opponents to just one touchdown on three occasions.

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If the Lions are able to slow down the high-flying Firebird offense, their big-play offense will have opportunities to score from a couple of key players. Senior quarterback Truman Juelsgaard will use his abilities on the ground and through the air to dictate play. Behind a strong offensive line, Juelsgaard and running backs junior Brayden Heck and senior Shance Wilkerson will look to gain valuable yardage on the ground. Junior tight end Cole Watson and senior wide receiver Baylor Bowen offer the Lions plentiful chances for big plays through the air.

Both teams bring in a season of success and big plans for the post-season. It will be the first football city showdown matchup with a student section and marching band since 2019 which will be sure to incite lots of gameday energy. 

For Bowen and the Lions, it’s all about avoiding distractions and staying focused on the goal, a rivalry win and seeding advantage for the playoffs.

Baylor Bowen’s second city showdown, but first as a Chesty Lion

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After a memorable, state championship season in Argyle, Texas, senior wide receiver Baylor Bowen prepares to face his former teammates in the City Showdown.
Bowen attended Free State High School for his first two years of high school, but made the return to Lawrence for his senior season to don the red and black after his father, Clint, became the head football coach for Lawrence High.
“It’ll be super cool to see faces out there that I already know and to be playing against some friends,” Bowen said. “But, it will also be cool to see what we can do and compete against them.”
Bowen has been the top receiving threat for the Chesty Lions, hauling in 25 catches for 516 yards and five touchdowns. Bowen has averaged 74 receiving yards per contest.
As the team looks forward to Friday, Bowen believes the Lions’ biggest key to victory is in their preparation.
“We are just going to practice hard every day like my dad says, it’s all about practice. You can’t just go into the game without any preparation, every day this week we’ve been practicing really hard.”
As Friday night looms large, Bowen hopes he and other pass-catchers will be ready to exploit aspects of the Firebirds’ secondary.
“Some of their defensive backs are kind of new to football. Hopefully, we can take advantage of that. We’ll see what they have to do to guard some of our threats like Cole [Watson] and I.”

 

Clint Bowen elevates defense with his collegiate coaching experience

Kenna McNally

A brand new defensive lineup and refreshed coaching staff have contributed to a great season for the Lawrence High School defense so far.

Returning defensive coaches Jeff Lyster (Co-Def Coordinator and Linebackers Coach), Dexter Hayes (Corners Coach) and Blake Mudd (Co-Def. Coordinator and Defensive Line Coach) are joined by newcomer Bryce Torneden (Safeties Coach), and despite being the Quarterbacks coach Clint Bowen has contributed a great deal of coaching on the defensive side of the ball because of his experience being a defensive coach at North Texas, Kansas and Western Kentucky. 

Returning defensive leaders are seniors Evan Bannister (LB), Keyan Crawford (S) and Malique Morris-Ramierez (DE) who each played a lot of snaps during last year’s undefeated regular-season run. 

Senior Zeric Avery (CB), junior Kenton Simmons (OLB) and sophomore Kem Allen (DT) have also stepped up from last year and have contributed greatly to the defense. 

Joining the mix are senior Avion Nelson (S) and Piper High School transfer junior Lance Bassett (DE). Both are new to LHS football for different reasons, but they’ve both had amazing seasons for the Lions so far.

The Lions defense has been incredible this season. They haven’t allowed more than 2 touchdowns in five of their seven outings, and in four of those five, they haven’t allowed more than 10 points. This level of skill and excellence is how the defense knows they’ll play this Friday. 

“The key [to winning] this week is doing our job and staying focused,” Allen said. “We need to be mentally locked in, especially during practice. If we do that, we can just do our thing.”  

Bannister provided some further explanation on “our thing.” 

“We have to start strong,” he said. “They’re going to play better because they’re playing us. That’s just how the rivalry works. We’re just gonna play the football we know how to.”

On the other hand, Simmons is facing on 2 major assignments more than anyone else.

“We need to stop Jet [Dineen] and Dash [Cleveland]. If we do that, we’ll be good. The safeties and corners will definitely hold it down.”

All 3 agreed that fans being back for the first time in 2 years was massive, but Bannister once again summed up thoughts nicely

“It’s really exciting walking out and seeing all the fans,” he said. “I missed it last year, and I know the feel and the energy of the crowd is gonna be awesome.”

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Ashton Rapp, Jake Shew, Reed Parker-Timms and Dom LaPoint contributed to this report