Fired up by homecoming and a passionate pregame speech from its coach, the Lawrence High football team opened Friday's game against Olathe East with a defensive stand and an impressive drive for a touchdown.
But instead of inspiring the Lions to greatness, the hot start only seemed to awaken Olathe East, and the Hawks rolled to a 37-19 victory at Haskell Stadium.
Olathe East's first three scoring drives took fewer than four minutes combined, and the Hawks capitalized on great field position throughout the night.
"We turned the ball over and gave them a short field a couple of times, and our defense isn't good enough to stand up to that," LHS coach Dirk Wedd said. "We have to be able to move the football, and we really didn't do that tonight."
The Lions put together long drives just twice. They scored on both of them - the first to open the game and the second to close it.
After an energized LHS defense forced the Hawks to punt on their first possession, the Lions ripped off a 10-play, 59-yard drive in 4:14 to take a 7-0 lead. First-time starters Andrew Miller and Jake Green carried most of the load on the drive, as Miller was 2-of-2 for 35 yards through the air and Green carried six times for 24 yards on the ground. The second of Miller's completions was to senior Travis Sanders, who set up Green's one-yard touchdown run by fighting for yardage after the catch.
"We had a quarterback who started his first varsity football game, and we had a tailback who was in the cheering section last year as a sophomore and is now playing both ways for us," Wedd said. "Considering the amount of experience they both had, they did a great job."
The Hawks answered the Lions' first touchdown with a two-play drive capped by senior Travis Tannahill's 55-yard touchdown reception. Tannahill, a tight end bound for Kansas State, took a quick slant from quarterback Rick Settle eight yards into the LHS secondary and then did the rest with his speed and size. Several LHS defenders bounced off Tannahill as he roared his way into the end zone to tie the game.
Not to be outdone, LHS showed a quick-strike ability of its own on its next play from scrimmage. On a beautifully executed bootleg by Miller, Jared Vinoverski got open down the LHS sideline, outplayed his man for the ball and raced to the end zone to give LHS its second lead. A botched snap on the extra point attempt kept the score at 13-7 Lions, and appeared to be the beginning of the end for LHS.
Olathe East scored touchdowns on four of its next five possessions, adding a safety in the middle, to take a 37-13 lead into halftime.
"We couldn't get in a scoring match with them," Wedd said. "They're pretty explosive, and we're not playing with all of our guns right at the moment. We just needed to find a way to stop them from scoring. I was very disappointed in our defense."
The second half was rather uneventful as neither team mounted much of a scoring threat until Tyler Hunt's 50-yard touchdown run with 1:05 to play in the game. The run put Hunt over the 100-yard mark for the night. He led all rushers with 114 yards on 20 carries.
Friday marked the second straight game the Lions had outscored a heavily favored opponent in the second half. In fact, it was the second consecutive second-half shutout for the LHS defense. But that was of little consolation to Wedd.
"This game was out of hand halfway through the second quarter," Wedd said. "And they put it on cruise control after that.
"We're just not very fundamentally sound right now, and that's a direct reflection on the head coach. But we're going to put the pads back on at 8 a.m. (today) and get some things worked out."
The loss was the second in a row for LHS, which fell to 2-3 on the season. Olathe East improved to 4-1.