Brett Sims needed only five words to describe in a nutshell how Lawrence High's football players reacted to last year's loss to Free State.
"It was," said Sims, a senior defensive end, "a bad feeling."
Lawrence High recorded twice as many first downs, ran 16 more plays and held the Firebirds to just 148 yards of offense, yet the Lions came out on the short end of a 14-12 score.
Defensive back Marc Albers, another senior, also remembers that hollow feeling.
"I don't think we really realized how hard they'd play," Albers said, "and how they'd be fired up."
Lawrence High was favored last year, and the Lions will be favored again in Friday's ninth renewal of the intracity showdown. Kickoff will be at 7 p.m. Friday at Memorial Stadium.
"This week we'll be focused a lot more," Albers said. "Since most of us played in last year's game, I think we'll realize the sense of urgency we need to have."
In the 2004 meeting, the Lions were driving for a go-ahead score when Free State defensive back Brett Lisher intercepted a halfback pass thrown by Nolan Kellerman, essentially assuring the Firebirds' their third victory in the series.
Lisher and Kellerman were juniors last season and have been mainstays as seniors this fall. Lisher is the Sunflower League's second-leading receiver, while Kellerman is the league's fifth-leading rusher.
"It was a heart-breaker," Kellerman said. "That's one loss I'll always remember. Sweet revenge is what I'm looking for."
Lawrence High will go into Friday's game with a 6-1 record, while the Firebirds are 3-4.
Nevertheless, the Firebirds have played a tougher schedule. Their four losses were to Sunflower League teams with a combined record of 25-4. In contrast, Lawrence High's six victories have come against teams with a combined record of 12-30.
Lisher, for one, doesn't buy that tougher-schedule theory.
"In the Sunflower League, they're all tough," said Lisher, son of Free State coach Bob Lisher. "It's all about who wants it more."
Teammate Nick Ayre, another senior who was a Free State regular last year, concedes the Firebirds have had more difficult opponents than the Lions, "but they play the same as they always do, and fight hard."
South of 15th Street, the Lions vow they could care less if they go in as favorites or as underdogs.
"It doesn't matter who's better," Kellerman said. "I think we're better, but you can't go by what's on paper."
Echoed Albers: "We can't look past them. That's what we did last year."