For a football program that won five state championships earlier this decade, five wins and early exit in the state playoffs normally would be considered a bust.
Lawrence High coach Dick Purdy, though, was thrilled by the Lions' performance in 1998, considering Lawrence had its smallest senior class in years, suffered a 30-0 loss to Manhattan in Week Two and was 2-4 heading into district. Also, the Lions were coming off a 4-5 season and no playoff berth.
"Our coaching staff finished the year with a real good feeling about our team," Purdy said. "Our sophomores and juniors had to learn something from the effort we got from our 15 seniors."
The Lions' season ended in the Class 6A state quarterfinals on Friday with a 33-14 loss to Olathe North, the two-time defending state champion. LHS finished with a 5-5 record -- the first time it has ended with that mark in 107 years of football at the school.
Following that embarrassing loss to Manhattan at Haskell Stadium, the Lions responded with a ball-control offense that limited the opponents' chances to score. The Lions' other regular-season losses were to Shawnee Mission West (21-14), Olathe North (20-12) and Olathe South (21-13).
"Manhattan just throttled us," Purdy said. "The seniors buckled it up after that and got a little better and cut back on the mistakes."
Six of the LHS seniors were two-way starters -- Ryan Fender, Frank Salb, Nick Wilcox, Dustin Myers, Riley Scott and Simon Cordova.
"We were pleased with the effort we got out of our guys," Purdy said. "You look at Myers and Salb never coming off the field, being offensive linemen, pushing and shoving with their 170 to 180 pounds. Think of all the effort they had to put out, going against big guys and turning around and trying to stop those same guys while giving up 70 to 100 pounds."
The lack of depth took a physical toll on the Lions, Purdy said.
"Our players lost about an average of 10 to 12 pounds apiece," Purdy said. "Usually in football you finish heavier than you started out."
Cordova, the smallest Lion at 5-feet-5, 136 pounds, proved to be a versatile performer. The slotback-defensive back, the Lions' lone all-Sunflower League first-team selection, rushed for two touchdowns, caught two passes for TDs, threw a TD pass and returned a punt for a touchdown.
Cordova scored the team's most memorable TD, a 41-yard game-winner on a trick play against Free State in the Lions' 28-24 victory over the Firebirds.
Senior fullback Tony Thomas came on late for the Lions. He finished with 825 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns, gaining 404 of those yards in the three district contests.
For the final two weeks of the season, the Lions rallied around a Kansas box turtle as their unofficial mascot. The turtle, part of Purdy's "Tortoise and Hare" theme in preparation for Free State and O-North, has been returned to a pasture.
"The turtle is back in its natural habitat," Purdy said. "It has to get its own food now."
-- Steve Rottinghaus' phone message number is 832-7152. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.