Manhattan History will be kind to Lawrence High's 1987 state championship football team.
"I guess we'll be known as 'The overachievers.' I kind of like that tag," said giddy senior noseguard John Shackelford, after the Lions' one-for-the-ages, 17-12, win over top-ranked, previously undefeated Manhattan High in Saturday's Class 6A finals at KSU Stadium.
The tiny, gritty 11-1 Lions picked to place third in the Sunflower League in preseason polls - not only won a share of the conference crown, stormed by Olathe North, 30-28, and Wyandotte, 14-7, in quarterfinal and semifinal battles, but also bested USA Today's No. 24-ranked Indians in the finals.
Bigger ... the Tribe averaged more than 200 pounds on the line to Lawrence's 180, and generally regarded as better ... MHS boasts several major college recruits to Lawrence's none, Manhattan nonetheless, fell behind 10-0 at halftime, never to catch the "overachievers" - oops, make that the victorious Lions.
"I think maybe we're a team of destiny. We're not a great team, but we play hard, with heart. It's an intangible," said LHS head coach Bill Freeman, whose Lions took advantage of six Indian turnovers (LHS had two).
"Of all the state championships we've won, I don't know of many sweeter. I still feel this team played with more heart than any I've had. We certainly won with less talent than any other year. It's really the ultimate team. Each state victory is great, but to win with more heart and less talent ... that's sweet. To win state with a 139-pound quarterback (Cam Miller), that's something. I'm proud of him," added Freeman.
The Lions threw for one, vital touchdown Saturday, but it wasn't tossed by Miller. Leading 3-0, courtesy of a 35-yard field goal by Matt Armbrister, the Lions received a big break late in the first half. Manhattan's Tom Thaemert fumbled a Charley Bowen punt at the 14. It was scooped up by junior Scott Stidham with just 25 ticks left. It took one play to score, halfback Mickey Kimball hitting Scott Hickman on a wide-open, 14-yard option pass at :09. Armbrister's kick gave LHS a shocking 10-0 lead.
Turned out to be key turnover for the Indians, who lost three fumbles the first half.
"He (Thaemert) ran into a pile," said Stidham, who recovered a fumbled kickoff that resulted in no points. "The ball spurted out and there was nobody around but me. It was an important play, but don't give me too much credit. It helped us because we scored on the next play."
It was a pass play Kimball was most proud of.
"We worked on it all week," said Kimball, who rushed for 69 yards on 21 carries. "We knew it would be open. I got the pitch and had time to throw. Scott was wide open."
Actually, the Lions, who outgained Manhattan 100 yards to 36 the first half (MHS won the second half 233-66, but 70 of the Tribe's yards came on a last-ditch drive), could have scored more than 10 early tallies. Blessed with great field position, Lawrence started drives at the Manhattan 28, 35 and 45. Each drive ended in a. punt. Lawrence's average first-half field position (on eight possessions) was the MHS 47. Manhattan, meanwhile, started drives at its own 13, 47, 19 and 19.
"I'm glad we scored and went in at 10-0," said Freeman. "The important thing is we didn't want to come out, play conservative and keep from losing in the second half."
The Lions may have wanted to be aggressive, but it was Manhattan that dominated early in the half.
Following an LHS punt, the Tribe drove from the Lion 48 to the 33 in five plays. On third and 10, Kimball intercepted a higharching Matt Lowenstein pass at the eight. End of drive.
"We must have had a great rush, because he just threw it up for grabs and it landed in my hands," said Kimball.
Manhattan scored on its next drive - a seven-play, 87-yard march. QB Lowenstein, who hit 11 of 17 passes for 176 yards with two interceptions, completed passes of 43 yards to Jarrod Cochran and 33 to Matt Laurie. He found Cochran wide open in the end zone on a third and six from the eight.
The extra point snap was high, however, and holder Cochran was downed by Earl Fowler, keeping the score at 10-6 with :21 left in the third.
The Lions again punted following their first fourth-quarter possession. Manhattan marched from its 47 to the LHS 13 in six plays. Facing a second and seven at the 13, halfback Maurice Benson (52 yards, 14 carries) fumbled. The ball shot out of the pile to defensive back Kimball at the five. He scooped it cleanly, returned it to the 10 and LHS dodged the bullet with 7:16 remaining.
"I was in the right place at the right time the whole game," Kimball said.
The fumble was Benson's third.
"How can you explain fumbles?" asked Freeman. "If you're destined to win, those things seem to happen."
A key offensive series ensued. Facing a third and three at the 17, with five minutes left, Kimball bolted up the middle for 19. Lawrence was out of danger, but three downs later, had to punt, and Manhattan took over at its own 33 with 3 - 31 left.
The Indians' comeback hopes vanished two plays later. On second and six at the 37, Lowenstein had a sideline pass tipped by tackle Chris King and intercepted by Charley Bowen. The junior scampered 39 yards for a TD. That gave Lawrence an insurmountable 17-6 advantage at 2:46.
Never-say-die Manhattan did manage a last-gasp score with no ticks left.
Bowen's grab was a biggie.
"We put great pressure on the quarterback and Charley made the big play," said linebacker Fowler. "We made a commitment today. We said on every play we would at least stick somebody hard. We promised each other we'd hit. We followed through with that."
Hence the Lions attained their second consecutive state crown and third in the past four years. LHS has won titles under Freeman in 1979, '84, '86 and now '87.
"Nobody thought we could do it, but we did it," said Fowler, who knelt and prayed with teammates King and Ryan Catlin on the 50 after the awards celebration.
The crowd on a cold day with snow sprinkles was estimated at 5,000 ... Lawrence stretched its non-conference winning streak to 40 games. LHS owns a 47-2 non-conference record under Freeman, who has completed 14 years at LHS. Freeman, a head coach for 30 years, now has won four state crowns here to go with his two at Osawatomie and one at LeRoy ... LHS, winners of 16 state titles, is 38-9 against Manhattan ... Freeman is 6-0 in head-to-head matchups against MHS coach Lew Lane...