On a warm Friday night, when the Big 12 grew closer to extinction, the Lawrence High football team turned the clock back to Big Eight days with a dominant performance.
The spirit of the night had the crowd at the second-year LHS stadium euphoric and had the entire Lions football team sprinting off the field and into the locker room in a way that suggested that, if asked, the players happily would have played another game right then and there.
Undeterred by a 45-minute delay in starting the second half because the west bank of lights went out, LHS pounded Shawnee Mission West, 35-12. In so doing, the Lions avenged last season’s 55-24 loss.
The LHS offense was led by a clever, quick dual-threat quarterback, a hard-driving running back and a fleet of tough receivers who heard the crowd’s roar, but never the footsteps of closing defenders.
The loudest buzz, understandably, surrounded junior QB/safety/return man Brad Strauss, who threw for 192 yards and two touchdowns, rushed for 119 yards and two scores and executed magnificent ball fakes. On his 23-yard touchdown run, Strauss started right, taking the whole defense with him, and pulled off the equivalent of a Sherron Collins cross-over dribble with his feet and breezed left for a score that wowed the audience. The next-loudest buzz surrounded senior tailback Charles Jackson, sidelined from practice much of the week by a hip pointer that didn’t keep him from rushing for 169 yards and a score.
The receivers, oh-so-smooth Erick Mayo, go-up-and-get-them Drake Hofer, elusive Anthony Buffalomeat and crafty Garrett Cleavinger, gave Strauss the confidence to throw into tight spots.
No question, the offense lit it up, but the most significant development of the night was the way the defense hit so hard, played with such relentless aggression and shut out the Vikings for the final 35 minutes of the game.
Linebacker Jake Vinoverski consistently played the sort of punishing football first made famous by Chicago Bears middle linebacker Dick Butkus. Vinoverski repeatedly hurried the quarterback into off-target throws, nailed ball-carriers behind the line of scrimmage and made hard hit after hard hit.
“He’s insane,” said junior defensive lineman Kharon Brown, who also had a big night. “He’s mental, actually. He shouldn’t be allowed to play football.”
Said Vinoverski: “I wouldn’t have had any of those tackles if the defensive line didn’t open things up. Kharon Brown, Sean Thomas, and the rest of the guys up front deserve the credit. We just had to work together.”
Coach Dirk Wedd praised his defensive coaches: “We were not a very good defensive team two weeks ago. They did a great job of developing chemistry and getting the kids to buy into playing hard. And defense, I don’t care if it’s high school or Div. I football, it’s flying around the field and hitting people.”
Vinoverski deflected credit to Jackson for playing hurt.
“You probably couldn’t tell it by the way he played, but he was really in a lot of pain our last practice,” Vinoverski said.
He’s right. Nobody could have guessed that. Jackson’s one tough athlete, and it looks as if he has plenty of company in the locker room.