Olathe — The Lawrence High football team traveled to Olathe Friday, hoping to gain some momentum before heading into district play next week.
Instead, the Lions left with their fourth loss in a row, a 25-11 setback to Olathe South at the Olathe District Activities Center.
The toughest part about Friday's defeat was the fact that this was a game the Lions probably should have won.
After stuffing Olathe South on its first possession of the game, LHS took the ball and immediately pulled out the kind of tactics expected from a team dying for a victory. On fourth-and-one from his own 10-yard line, LHS coach Dirk Wedd sent quarterback Clint Pinnick back to punt. Instead of booting the ball away, Pinnick took two steps and fired a 13-yard completion to Aaron Rea. The conversion injected early life into the hungry Lions and they rode the legs of senior tailback Jake Green down the field.
But after six straight running plays, Pinnick threw into triple coverage and had his third pass of the night intercepted at the Olathe South one-yard line.
After the game, Wedd shouldered the blame for the interception.
"That was just a bad call," Wedd said. "That's on me. We were driving the ball on the ground and I decided to play-action pass. We should've just ran the frickin' ball."
Missed opportunities were the story of the first half for the Lions. Despite dominating the line of scrimmage and running at will, LHS only managed a field goal - a 27-yarder from senior Spencer Scott that capped a 13-play, 45-yard drive - and continually left Olathe South with life.
The Falcons heartbeat reached a fevered pace with 19 seconds to play in the first half when senior quarterback Marshall Davis dove over the line for a two-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-goal.
The lone touchdown of the first half was set up by another Pinnick interception. His second of the game gave the Falcons a first-and-10 at the LHS 36-yard line.
Senior lineman Ryan Giblin blocked South's extra point attempt, keeping the Lions within a field goal as the two teams headed into the locker room. Despite the shot of momentum from the blocked kick, LHS left the field disappointed that it did not capitalize on its early chances.
"We missed some opportunities in the first half," Wedd said.
The pain they felt from an empty first half grew substantially on the opening play of the second half, as Olathe South's Reggie Harris returned the kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown.
"That was the biggest play of the game," Wedd said. "I thought we could kick it into the end zone with all that wind. We should have just squibbed it."
LHS junior Jay Baker, who was a disruptive force on the line all night, said the kick return acted like a punch to the gut.
"That was bad," Baker said. "Everyone just went down from that."
Wedd lamented the fact that he had as many as five inexperienced sophomores on the kickoff coverage team but said he had little choice because of his team's lack of depth.
"We've got everybody going both ways so (kickoffs are) the only time we can give some of those guys a breather," Wedd said. "And it came back and bit us."
Despite dropping to 2-4 on the season and failing to gain that momentum they so desperately needed, the night was not a total loss for the Lions. Finally back to 100 percent after missing two weeks with an injury, Green carried the ball 31 times for 146 yards, including a two-point conversion run that followed Rea's 32-yard touchdown run with 1:35 to play.
"He's a great Lawrence High player," Wedd said of Green. "He could care less about yards or anything else, he just wants to win."
The Lions outgained the Falcons 296 to 165, including a 62-11 advantage in the passing game. But the two costly first-half turnovers were too much to overcome.
Next up, LHS returns to Haskell Stadium on Friday, Oct. 17 for Round 1 of district play. The Lions (2-4) will play host to winless Olathe Northwest (0-6) in the opener.