Lawrence High's football team won't leave home without it.
The Lions plan to pack their lucky turtle for tonight's Class 6A state quarterfinal against Olathe North at Olathe District Activities Center. Kickoff is 7 p.m.
A replay of the contest will be shown on cable channel 6 at 10:30 tonight.
The Kansas box turtle, symbolizing Lawrence High's slow and steady offense a la "The Tortoise and the Hare," came in handy last week when the Lions toppled Free State, 28-24. That victory qualified the Lions for the state playoffs and tonight's meeting with the two-time defending state champion Eagles.
"The turtle is impervious to the talons of birds of prey ... or so I'm told," said LHS coach Dick Purdy, who has guided the Lions to eight state playoff appearances in nine years. "We're continuing our turtle theme."
LHS (5-4) has won three in a row heading into tonight's contest. Third-ranked Olathe North (7-2) has won five straight, starting with a 20-12 victory over the Lions in Week Five.
O-North knows all about Lawrence High's plodding offense. In that game last month, the Lions took the opening possession 24 plays to the Eagles' one-yard line before fumbling. The series consumed the entire first quarter and 24 seconds of the second quarter.
"They are so well coached," O-North coach Gene Wier said of the Lions' methodical offense. "Part of being well coached is having the attitude of wanting to be coached. Their kids want to win and that's why they're successful."
O-North is led by senior tailback Beno Gore, a 5-foot-8, 180-pounder. He won the Sunflower League rushing title with 1,358 yards and 20 touchdowns. Against LHS last month, he gained 155 yards on 17 carries and had two TDs, including a 55-yard burst. Sophomore Darren Sproles backs up Gore.
"He's better than good," Purdy said of Gore. "I don't know why they would want to do anything different. They'll give the ball to Beno and Sproles and watch them go."
Does Purdy plan any surprises? A trick play by LHS last week resulted in a 41-yard game-winning TD run by Simon Cordova. And in the 1995 state semifinals -- the last time the Lions and Eagles met in the playoffs -- Purdy placed 5-foot-11, 264-pound John Nelson in the offensive backfield.
"You run the well dry when you're playing somebody so many times," Purdy said. "Trying to find another well isn't easy to do."
Earlier this year Purdy wasn't so sure the Lions would find the playoffs. They lost 30-0 to Manhattan in Week Two and were 1-2 after three games.
"They have given great effort," Purdy said of his squad. "They had a rough first couple of weeks. Since that time they have really worked hard to get better. They've been able to play every week with some great intensity. They understand how they can be successful by playing a certain style and certain way and trying like crazy to not make any errors."
Senior fullback Tony Thomas leads the Lions with 765 rushing yards and 10 TDs. A chunk of that came in the three district contests when he totaled 404 yards and five TDs.
Senior Frank Salb, one of the Lions' two-way starters, may be limited tonight because of a foot injury. Salb, normally a starting offensive guard and linebacker, will likely just play defense tonight.
-- Steve Rottinghaus' phone message number is 832-7152. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
- For a halftime update and the final score, call Access at 865-5000, category 6000.