With the stakes raised and its march toward the postseason under way, the Lawrence High football team did what it does best Friday night at Haskell Stadium - run the football.
It started with senior Jake Green, moved to senior Clifton Sims and even trickled down to senior quarterback Clint Pinnick and junior tailback Tyrae Jenkins. When the Lions cranked out the final ground gain in a night full of them - after sophomores Hank Marshall and Chris Gaston each added a yard apiece late in the game - the stat sheet read 60 carries for 333 yards.
More importantly, the scoreboard showed LHS 28, Olathe Northwest 7.
The victory snapped the Lions' four-game losing streak, and provided a needed dose of confidence as they head toward a collision with Free State High next week.
"This one felt good," senior offensive lineman Stephen Mason said. "We wanted to make a statement tonight and show that we remember what winning is."
It didn't take long for the first words of the statement to form. On the opening drive of the game, LHS ran the ball seven straight times. Green carried three times for 23 yards on the drive, and Sims carried three times for 30, including a 20-yard power run up the middle that ended in the end zone. On each carry, Green and Sims kept their legs churning and their heads downfield, fighting and banging for multiple yards after contact.
The soggy field and mud-filled trenches only made things better as far as Sims was concerned.
"These conditions were Lawrence High conditions tonight," Sims said. "It was one cut and go, run as hard as you can, and don't stop until you're down."
Sims followed that mantra all night, finishing with 31 carries. Amazingly, the total was the same number of totes Green tallied in a workmanlike effort last week at Olathe South. It also tied a career-high for Sims, matched his jersey number and produced a record-setting 210 yards.
"Last week, Jake did his thing and ran like a man, and tonight it was time to live up to my end of the bargain," Sims said.
Sims and Green were not was not the only ones to find success running the ball. After Green scored on a 22-yard run on the Lions' second possession of the game, Pinnick got in on the act late in the second quarter.
With the LHS offensive line knocking the Ravens on their heels at each snap, the Lions never needed to air it out. So Pinnick found another way to make his mark. With a little less than three minutes to play in the first half, Pinnick executed a beautiful bootleg, holding the linebackers to the middle of the field with his ball fake and using a few shakes and shimmies to fake two Olathe Northwest tacklers out of their socks downfield.
After slicing between ONW's Sheldon Bouwens and James Sanders, Pinnick cut back into the middle of the field and dragged two Ravens defenders across the goal line to give the Lions a 21-0 lead.
"I loved the way we came out in the first half and punched them in the mouth and made a statement," LHS coach Dirk Wedd said. "That's what we have to do. We're not fast, so we have to keep it between the tackles and run tough and keep the clock moving. We did that tonight."
Wedd said the effort was the best he'd seen all year from his offensive line. Mason agreed.
"We've got some big guys up front," Mason said. "And tonight I felt like we finally put them to good use. Our running backs and everyone in the backfield works hard every game, and it's nice to show they can trust us because we definitely trust them."
The second half lacked the action of the first half. Other than a 66-yard pitch and catch by Olathe Northwest on the third play of the third quarter, the only offensive highlight of the second stanza came when LHS junior Jenkins scored from two yards out on the very next drive.
The touchdown was the first of his career, the first of his life.
And Jenkins made sure to enjoy every inch of it.
"As soon as I landed in the end zone, I just laid there, I was so excited," Jenkins said. "I've learned a lot from the two great players we have running the ball every day. Learning from those guys has been amazing."
The Lions improved to 3-4 and 1-0 in district play. Next up, LHS will play host to Free State High (4-3, 1-0) next Friday at Haskell Stadium. Kickoff will be 7:30 p.m.