Lawrence High is renowned for peaking late in the football season, and the Lions took a step toward the summit last Friday in their 28-6 win over Topeka.
"I thought we played a lot harder last week on defense than we've been playing before," senior lineman Dan Lalich said. "I just think we improved on aggressiveness and gave more effort as a team."
The Lions' up-the-middle running game certainly looked better, with Harold Harris gaining 77 yards and scoring two touchdowns.
"We came off the ball pretty good," Lalich said of the line. "A lot of it was because of our line splits. We had bigger holes, and Harold hit the holes good and quick. We're still not sustaining our blocks like we should be. We still have a lot of work to do."
The Lions can't exactly ready themselves for the postseason yet. Since Leavenworth ended its 19-game losing streak by beating Shawnee Heights last week, Lawrence can't qualify for the playoffs until it plays the Pioneers on Friday.
Lion coach Bill Freeman said he was pleased to see Leavenworth pull out its 20-19 win.
"That makes it more interesting," Freeman said. "Leavenworth has been playing as a loser. This week, for the first time in 19 (actually 20) games, they'll play as a winner."
But so will Lawrence, a team that Freeman agreed had not yet arrived.
"We played with a little more intensity," he said, "but it still wasn't enough to win the big games. We need more consistency on offense and defense, but mainly on offense."
Oddly, it was Lawrence's defense that had the biggest lapse against the Trojans. It came on the third play of the second half, when Troy running back Floyd Johnson scampered 64 yards for a touchdown.
"We weren't able to hold Johnson under 100 yards," Freeman said. He finished with 127 yards on 14 carries. "We're still susceptible to giving up the big play. The first part of the second half has killed us."
Harris killed the Trojans. Along with his 77 rushing yards, the senior returned a punt 52 yards to set up a buzzer-beater TD at halftime.
"Harold did turn it up," Freeman said. "He didn't change physically. He changed mentally between the last two games. He started running tougher and making it a little more difficult to tackle him."
Part of Topeka's problem, Lalich said, was its defense.
"They ran a 6-1," he said. "That made it easier up the middle. They did really well stopping us outside, but it cost them inside."
When Shawnee Heights took a 14-0 first-half lead on LHS two Fridays ago, it came close to costing the Lions their district winning streak, now at 26 games.
"We realized against Shawnee Heights that anyone has a shot at us," Lalich said. "It woke us all up. Even for Leavenworth, we're going to work hard to get ready."