Matt Stiles didn't know what to think two years ago. He was stunned.
At the time, Stiles was playing for the Lawrence High sophomore football team that had just lost to the Olathe East sophs.
"It was so surreal," said Stiles, now a senior running back for the Lions. "I didn't think it was actually happening."
Stiles and several of his current teammates were members of the eighth- and ninth-grade football teams at South Junior High that had run the table in 2001 and 2002.
One of those former Cougars was Marc Albers, now a senior defensive back.
"That was the first loss for the South kids in three years," Albers said of the O-East defeat, "and we're looking for revenge this year."
Lawrence High's first crack at O-East since '03 will be tonight in the semifinals of the Class 6A state playoffs.
Kickoff will be at 7:30 p.m. at Haskell Stadium. Delayed telecasts are scheduled for 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday on Sunflower Broadband Channel 6.
The Lions and Hawks also met in a varsity game in 2003, but the bulk of the current senior-laden LHS roster participated in the sophomore game that O-East won, 14-0.
"It was pretty much a standstill except for two big plays," Albers said. "We stopped their run game pretty well, but they shut us down."
The O-East sophs stopped the Lions that day without Derek Miller at quarterback.
Miller had been promoted to varsity status that week and, in his first start, the 6-foot-3, 200-pounder guided the Hawks to a 23-15 come-from-behind victory over the Lions at the Olathe District Activities Center.
Since then, Miller hasn't missed a start while ramrodding the first 11-win season in the history of the school that opened in 1992. Miller has had plenty of help - notably from quicksilver running back Demetrious Bell and fleet wide receiver Adam Parks.
"They're really talented," Stiles said. "They're fast, they're strong, they're big. You can't be unbeaten and be a fluke."
LHS vs. Olathe east
What: Class 6A state semifinal When: 7:30 tonight Where: Haskell Stadium TV Delay: 11 a.m. Saturday, Sunflower Broadband Channel 6 Radio: KLWN-AM (1320)
Added quarterback Brian Heere: "I'm sure they have some weakness, but I don't know what."
Lawrence's 10-1 record isn't a fluke, either. The Lions' lone stumble was a 14-0 whitewash at Olathe South during the regular season - a loss avenged Friday when the Lions spilled the Falcons, 21-10, in the 6A quarterfinals.
LHS has posted its first double-digit win season since the 1995 squad coached by Dick Purdy went 11-1 and captured the school's last state title.
Nonetheless, the Hawks are favored to advance to next week's 6A title game against either Hutchinson or Garden City at Topeka's Hummer Sports Park.
"We've been underdogs before, and we don't mind it," Stiles said. "They beat us as sophomores, but it's been awhile, and so much has changed."
This is the fourth time LHS and Olathe East have clashed in the playoffs. The Lions toppled the Hawks in 1993 and 1994, but O-East stunned Lawrence, 21-19, in the '02 playoffs after the Lions had posted a 26-7 victory during the regular season.
Lawrence won the first five games between the two schools in the '90s, but O-East has captured five of the last six meetings.