The Lawrence High football team had three injured quarterbacks entering its regular-season finale. This week, as the Lions prepare for the playoffs, they were able to remove at least one name from that list — maybe two.
LHS coach Dirk Wedd said junior Drake Hofer, who suffered a concussion Oct. 21, has been cleared to play. Plus, junior Brad Strauss is “day-to-day” and has not been ruled out for the playoff opener.
What the coach didn’t want to say, however, is whether Hofer, Strauss or Tyrone Jenkins will start at QB at 7 tonight, when Lawrence plays Olathe South at Olathe District Activities Center. Wedd was more interested in maintaining some mystery about who would play against the Falcons (8-1) than naming a starter.
Hofer came in for an injured Strauss in a 21-3 loss to Olathe Northwest and Jenkins, who had been Lawrence’s top running back, started at QB in a 20-0 win at Free State when Strauss, Hofer and Austin Mater-Kimball were all out with injuries a week ago.
Lawrence’s coach felt confident that any of the team’s quarterbacks could lead LHS in its first-round Class 6A playoff game against the Sunflower League champs because the Lions (6-3) have been dealing with what seems like a new injury every week.
“I don’t doubt these kids in the least,” Wedd said. “They’ve had so much adversity and so many things thrown at them. I really expect us to play well, and I expect us to, you know, take the fight to them.”
LHS will need plenty of fight to knock O-South out of the playoffs. The Falcons average 277 yards a game on the ground and have scored 31 rushing touchdowns.
The Lions gave up 321 rushing yards to O-South in a 33-22 loss back on Sept. 9. So they are more than familiar with how difficult it will be to slow down the Falcons’ ground attack.
Senior defensive tackle Sean Thomas said a repeat performance of that game is not an option for LHS.
“We can’t just let them run it down our throats like they did the first time,” Thomas said.
According to Wedd, the Falcons’ misdirection offense and “monster-big” offensive line make for a scary combination.
“They run it the best in the league,” Wedd said of O-South.
The Falcons are the league’s best rushing attack because they have more than one productive running back. Senior Jason Ward is the No. 1 option, has rushed for a team-best 847 yards and has scored 10 rushing touchdowns.
However, Wedd said O-South is no one-trick pony.
“They’ve got a whole bunch of speed, and if you pile up on them, they’ll play-action pass you to death, which they did in the first game against us,” the coach said.
Junior quarterback Frank Seurer has only attempted 87 passes this season, but he has completed 53 of them for 1,159 yards and nine touchdowns. Senior tight end Drew Johnson is his most productive target, with 553 receiving yards and five TD receptions.
Wedd knows the Sunflower League’s top offense (406 yards a game) won’t be easy to stop.
“We’re just gonna have to play unbelievably well defensively to keep us in the game,” he said, “and hope that we can manage to find an offense.”
LHS is No. 2 in the league in total offense (397 yards a game), but the bulk of those numbers came with Strauss (2,261 yards, total offense) playing quarterback. If the junior is somehow able to play, he likely won’t be as mobile because he has been slow to recover from a bad left ankle injury.
Whoever plays QB will be able to throw to two of the Sunflower League’s top wide receivers in junior Erick Mayo (519 yards, four touchdowns) and senior Anthony Buffalomeat (512 yards, five touchdowns).
And whether Jenkins plays running back or quarterback, he demonstrated his durability last week with 122 rushing yards on 37 carries.
Wedd said Lawrence will not have senior center Brady Murrish, but he had more good news for the Lions on the injury front. Senior outside linebacker Jake Vinoverski, injured for more than a month, is now close to 100 percent, the coach said. Having Vinoverski healthy should do nothing but help Lawrence’s league-best defense (255 yards a game allowed).
With the Sunflower League’s top defense and offense going head-to-head, Wedd said the Lions are looking forward to the showdown.
“I don’t think they want the season to end,” he said.