If ever there were a more fitting ending to a season, the Lawrence High football team hasn’t seen it.
Down to their final chance at salvaging one solitary victory in an otherwise forgettable season, the Lions came through in the most dramatic way Friday night at LHS — a 13-6, overtime victory against winless Leavenworth.
As the final horn sounded on a game in which both previously winless teams competed as if they were playing for something much more important than avoiding the Sunflower League cellar, the LHS faithful went wild.
The band belted “Stand Up and Cheer,” fans rushed the field, coaches hugged each other, and players and many fans held a single finger high in the air, signaling officially that the Lions had finally earned win No. 1. Unofficially, the familiar celebratory signal symbolized that, on this night, the Lions felt like champions.
“This means everything,” said senior running back Tyrae Jenkins, who scored the game-winning touchdown on the third play of overtime. “We said all week that we didn’t care if we won by one point, two points, whatever. We just wanted a win. And we got it.”
The game itself was about what you would expect from a pair of winless teams. Lots of turnovers, few points and a handful of mistakes kept things interesting to the end.
Leavenworth, which led 6-0 at the half, actually controlled most of the first three quarters. The Pioneers’ biggest break of the night came midway through the third, when the Lions were driving for a go-ahead score. With LHS looking to at least tie things up, Jenkins coughed up the football and gave the momentum right back to Leavenworth. Two plays later, the Lions intercepted a Leavenworth pass and were back in business. Three plays after that, junior quarterback Chris Gaston hit Taylor Coleman with a 26-yard touchdown pass that tied the game.
“When I scored that touchdown, I just said to myself, ‘It’s about time,’” Coleman said.
In keeping with the theme of their season, the snap sailed high on the Lions’ extra-point attempt and the game remained tied at 6-all heading into the fourth.
In the fourth, both teams battled back and forth but neither team could break through. The closest either team came to breaking the tie came late in the game when LHS’s Anthony Rosen missed three field goals that likely would have won the game in regulation.
The first, a 44-yarder against the wind, came up two yards short. But Rosen was roughed on the kick and the Lions lined up for a 39-yarder on the next play. Again the snap was high and the score remained tied at 6. A few minutes later, Rosen got another shot at it, this time from 42 yards with 1:01 to play. The kick would have been good from 50 yards but sailed wide right by a yard or two. That sent the teams to overtime and the rest, like it or not, is history.
Although Friday’s victory won’t stand up against the school’s 26 state championships or multiple undefeated seasons, it will mean something to the Class of 2010. Now and always.
“We’re 1-8 and the one is pretty memorable,” LHS coach Dirk Wedd said. “What I saw out there tonight was a bunch of kids who rolled up their sleeves, gave everything they could give and played like Lawrence High football players. That’s the highest compliment I can give them and I’m darn proud of every one of them.”
Added Coleman: “Years from now, when people ask whose team was that 1-8 team back in 2009, I’ll say that was my team.”