Shawnee Mission East was winless. So was Lawrence High. This one figured to be close. It wasn’t.
SM East swung a haymaker early and flattened the Lions, 25-7, on Friday night at the LHS campus stadium.
“They got punched in the mouth,” Lawrence coach Dirk Wedd said of his players, “and went reeling for 24 minutes. We have to learn to react to that much better than we did.”
After fielding the opening kickoff, the Lancers needed just seven plays to traverse 79 yards to score and capture the early momentum.
Then the Lions started playing giveaway. A couple of fumbled center snaps, an interception, blown pass coverage, a pass interference penalty and so on.
SM East led, 19-0, at intermission.
“We made too many mistakes in the first half,” Wedd said. “Those center exchanges … we haven’t had that all year. And our sophomore corner gets beat deep.”
Meanwhile, the Lions’ offense uttered barely a peep, compiling a mere 50 yards before the break, all but three of those yards on the ground.
At least the Lions played better in the second half.
“We challenged them at halftime,” Wedd said, “and they competed hard. If we don’t let the ball hit us on the helmet they probably don’t score.”
SM East’s lone second-half points were courtesy of a punt bouncing off a Lions’ helmet. The Lancers needed to go just 23 yards after that gaffe.
“With this team, you need small victories,” Wedd said, “and us winning the second half, 7-6, was something to build on.”
Lawrence’s defense did improve in the last 24 minutes, but the offense spun its wheels until staging a scoring drive against the Lancers’ reserves in the waning minutes.
The Lions’ touchdown — only their fifth in four games — came on a 24-yard pass from Chris Gaston to Tyler Sundown with just 2:37 remaining. That march also featured the Lions’ longest play of the night, a 27-yard run by Tyrae Jenkins.
Jenkins was a bright spot for Lawrence, slipping into minimal holes, bowling over defenders and finishing with a game-high 104 yards on 20 carries.
“I’m down. I’m sad. It hurts,” said Jenkins, a 5-foot-9, 165-pound senior. “But I see us getting better. I’m looking forward to practice on Monday.”
Jenkins is one of nine seniors on the Lions’ roster, and one of the few who is healthy. Among the ailing seniors are linemen Jay Baker and Dom Reiske and safety Chase Billings.
“Our seniors are really banged up,” Wedd said. “They’re our leaders and it’s hard for your seniors to be on the sideline when they should be on the field.”
Adding to the Lions’ frustration is the fact three of their four losses have been at home. They still don’t have a victory in their new stadium and they have only two games left in the new facility — next Friday against Olathe South and in the regular season finale against Leavenworth, the only other winless team in the league.
In order to stop the bleeding, the Lions will have to generate more offense and minimize mistakes.
“We’re not the type of football team that can fall behind,” Wedd said. “And the turnovers. They’re unacceptable.”