When Lawrence High's current football seniors were sophomores, it seemed Senior Night 2000 would be a bust.
Just nine sophomores went out for football in 1998 and LHS was unable to fill a sophomore schedule. In fact, the sophs played just one game that season.
"This team has evolved since then," LHS coach Dirk Wedd said. "The starting quarterback then is now the starting center (Jay Wiesner) and the starting right guard (Nick Hirschey) was playing in the marching band. It's pretty neat that this class has come as far as it has."
The seniors have come far enough to realize the significance of tonight's game against Topeka at Haskell Stadium. LHS is 5-3 overall and 2-0 in district. Topeka is 4-4 and 2-0. The winner advances to the Class 6A state playoffs. Kickoff for the district championship is 7:30 p.m.
Lawrence's 18 seniors will be recognized before the game.
"I think this senior class can really hang their hat on something positive with a 6-3 season and making it to the playoffs," Wedd said.
Lawrence hasn't won six games in a season since going 8-2 in 1996, the year before the city's second high school, Free State, opened.
Both LHS and Topeka rely on their play-making quarterbacks. Lion senior Devin McAnderson (5-foot-7, 155 pounds) has compiled 1,289 total yards 720 rushing and 569 passing. He rushed for a season-high 156 yards his fourth 100-yard game of the year in last week's 35-0 thrashing of Free State.
Meanwhile, senior quarterback Tremel Guillory (6-0, 180) makes Topeka go. In a 30-27 victory over Leavenworth last week, Guillory rushed for two touchdowns (63 and 79 yards), returned a punt 84 yards for a score and threw the game-winning TD pass with 1:23 left.
"This kid is legitimately fast," Wedd said. "He's very explosive. He gets your attention immediately watching the film."
The first half of the season, Guillory played primarily receiver and tailback for the Trojans.
"He's a play-maker," first-year Topeka coach Jimmy Collins said. "With the ball in his hands, he's capable to break it anytime."
Another offensive weapon for the Trojans is senior running back Terrance Carter (6-4, 220). Guillory and Carter are regarded as Div. I college prospects.
In Lawrence's 28-23 win over Topeka last year, Guillory rushed 14 times for 127 yards, including a 42-yard TD run. Carter had 15 carries for 79 yards, including two short TD runs.
Topeka opened the 2000 season with wins over Topeka Highland Park and Topeka West before losing four in a row.
"We had a rough four games in the I-70 (League)," Collins said. "It was kind of Lawrence going against the Olathe schools. Going against those good teams helped us get better."
The Trojans topped Free State, 18-14, two weeks ago at Haskell Stadium to snap their skid.
"They're a team playing their best football at the end of the season," Wedd said. "They'll come in with a lot of confidence. They'll come in with a lot of enthusiasm with a chance for a winning season.
"It's important this football team realizes that Lawrence High and state playoffs are expected."
Notes: LHS is 56-2 all time in district since the current format was adopted in 1981. The Lions' first district loss was to Topeka in 1997. ... Collins, a Topeka High alum, was an assistant at Topeka under current LHS defensive coordinator Jerry Skakal before Skakal came to Lawrence in 1994. ... Lawrence's starting offensive tackle Danny Young is doubtful tonight because of a knee injury. If he can't go, junior Jonathan Albers will fill in.
Playoff picture: If Lawrence High wins tonight, the Lions likely will play at Shawnee Mission North next Friday as the No. 3 seed in the first round of the playoffs. SM North (8-1) has already clinched a state berth and should be seeded second among the four eastern districts. The Olathe South-Olathe North winner will be the No. 1 seed. The SM East-SM South winner will advance to the state playoffs and likely be the No. 4 seed. Sports writer Steve Rottinghaus can be reached at 832-7152.