Stillwell With 17 seconds remaining in Lawrence High's season, LHS football coach Dirk Wedd gathered his players on the 45-yard line during a Blue Valley timeout.
They all came, back-ups, bench warmers and guys hobbled by injuries.
"I just wanted to thank them for their effort," Wedd said. "It was easier to do it then than when everyone was all emotional after the game. We just had a hard time matching up tonight. But those seniors, they showed the younger guys exactly what it means to be a Lawrence High football player."
Said so often, the line almost has become cliche. But Friday night, because of the effort of seniors like Clifton Sims, Clint Pinnick, Jake Green, Ryan Giblin and about a dozen others, it could not be said enough.
Despite being overmatched in just about every facet of the game, Lawrence High ended its season with pride, losing to Blue Valley, 42-23, in a slugfest at Blue Valley High.
Although the loss left many LHS players in tears, the seniors found it easier to hold their heads high because of the way they finished their careers. In a game which many expected to get out of hand in a hurry, the Lions competed and actually dominated at times.
"We did all we could tonight," senior quarterback Pinnick said. "The effort was there. I'm never going to forget this game. Even though we did lose, we went out giving it all we had."
On a night when his job was to manage the offense and pick the right time to hand off to seniors Green and Sims, Pinnick enjoyed his best showing through the air in the past four weeks. He finished 4-of-7 for 76 yards and a touchdown. He also added 33 yards on the ground.
The bulk of the Lions' 277 yards rushing came from Green and Sims, just like they have all season. Sims carried 23 times for 94 yards and two touchdowns and Green carried 17 times for 121 yards and added 23 more through the air.
In all, the high-powered Blue Valley attack outgained the Lions by just a single yard on the night, 354-353.
"That offense is tough," Pinnick said. "When you can go five-wide like that and do it good, it's tough to stop."
The game began exactly the way the Lions had hoped it would. LHS took the opening kickoff and chewed up the clock on an 11-play, 69-yard drive that ended with a Spencer Scott field goal. The field goal - and not a touchdown - was the only part of the drive that was sour, and it came because of a holding penalty on second-and-goal.
Blue Valley answered on its opening drive by marching the ball down the field with the pass. BVHS quarterback Anthony Abenoja, who was 15-for-26 for 193 yards on the night, completed five straight passes to set up a four-yard run by Treveor Cornley.
After empty drives by both teams, the Lions regained the lead on their third drive of the night with another time-consuming effort. This one covered 64 yards in nine plays and took 4:13 off the clock. It ended with Sims racing into the end zone for a 24-yard touchdown on fourth-and-three.
"We just played with pride," Sims said. "We knew the circumstances and we just went after it."
From there, things turned south for the Lions. A surprise onside kick and quick score by Blue Valley opened the lead to 21-9 at halftime. The Tigers added to their lead on the opening drive of the second half and tacked on two more touchdowns before the Lions capped the night with the lone fourth-quarter score, a one-yard plunge by Sims.
Despite being down by multiple scores throughout the night, the Lions kept fighting. And that's what earned the thank you from Wedd, who was overcome by emotion after the game.
"I love my kids," Wedd said. "There were seven other 6A football games tonight but I doubt any other team played as hard as these guys."
The loss dropped LHS to 4-6. Blue Valley improved to 9-1 and will play Blue Valley Northwest (3-7) next week in the Class 6A quarterfinals.