Lions come up short, 22-18

Lawrence High couldn’t make extra points. And the Lions didn’t have an answer for Adam Parks.

Everything else was moot as Olathe East rallied to edge Lawrence, 22-18, in a Class 6A football semifinal Friday night at Haskell Stadium.

“Falling four points short,” said senior defensive back Marc Albers, one of several teary-eyed Lions, “it’ll be hard to face reality.”

The Lions, hoping to make their first state-championship-game appearance in a decade, gave the unbeaten Hawks a couple of doses of reality on their first two possessions.

First, running back Nolan Kellerman covered 75 yards on the Lions’ first two plays for a touchdown. Then a bad O-East punt snap set up a second Lawrence TD, and the Lions led 12-0 before the Hawks knew what hit them.

“I was hoping we’d be up 14-0,” LHS coach Dirk Wedd said. “Missing those two extra points hurt. It seems like it catches up with you.”

Chris Cates was wide-right on a placement after Kellerman’s TD, so Wedd opted to go for two after the second score, but Brian Heere’s pass was intercepted in the end zone.

Later, when the Lions scored again – this time on a 27-yard pass from Heere to Scott Penny early in the second quarter – Cates was sent in to kick the conversion again. But his boot hit the right upright and bounced back.

“You should have 21 points and you have 18,” Wedd said, “and they closed to within three with just two touchdowns and a couple of extra points.”

Still, the Lions led 18-15 at halftime and didn’t surrender the lead until the second play of the fourth quarter, when Miller connected with Parks on a 29-yard TD pass.

It was the second TD reception of the night for Parks, a 5-foot-10, 165-pound senior who dazzled with eight catches for 139 yards.

Lawrence High neutralized Demetrious Bell, holding the speedy running back to 68 yards on 16 carries, but the Lions’ secondary couldn’t contain Parks.

“Our coverages were right,” Albers said. “We just didn’t execute.”

Added Kellerman, who also played in the secondary: “When we were in Cover Two and they ran to the far side, he was hard to cover.”

Wedd called it a case of a great player making great plays.

“They have a lot of weapons. They’re very explosive,” the Lions’ coach said. “We knew Parks was outstanding, and he didn’t do anything to change my mind.”

Twice after the Hawks had posted that go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth quarter, the Lions mounted marches. The first ended at their own 41 when Heere was intercepted by – who else? – Parks.

Then the Lions had another chance when Bell fumbled at the Lions’ 39, and Nick DeBiasse recovered. But that drive ended at the O-East 38 with 1:26 remaining when Heere’s fourth-down screen pass intended for Kellerman was knocked down.

Kellerman was basically the Lions’ only offensive weapon. The 5-9, 170-pound running back carried a punishing 29 times for 190 yards. He lugged the ball 14 times for 126 yards in the first half, but posted just 64 yards on 15 carries in the last 24 minutes.

“I think we played harder than they did,” a choked-up Kellerman said afterward, “but they made the big plays. We’re not big, and we don’t have any stars, but we played like Lawrence Lions tonight.”

Albers called this senior-dominated team the “tightest bunch of kids” who ever had worn a Lawrence High uniform.

“Nobody will ever be as tight as this bunch,” Albers added.

Wedd won’t forget this bunch of seniors, that’s for sure.

“Kids like that come along once in a great while,” the LHS coach said. “They did such a great job of bringing the program back up.”

This year’s Lions (10-2) were the first to post double-digit victories since the 1995 state championship team.

Olathe East (12-0) will meet Hutchinson (11-1) for the 6A state title a week from today at Topeka’s Hummer Park.