Lawrence Lions vs. Shawnee Mission West
The Lawrence Lions lost 21-14 to Shawnee Mission West at LHS Friday night.
He wasn’t exactly a secret weapon, but Andre Maloney was an unlikely game-changer Friday night.
Maloney, probably the Sunflower League’s best defensive back, doubled on offense as a Wildcat back and spurred the Vikings to a 21-14 victory over Lawrence High in a Class 6A sectional at the Lions’ field.
“We’d seen that maybe five times in three of their games,” Lions coach Dirk Wedd said of the Wildcat formation. “They haven’t run it very much.”
SM West clearly needed something after lagging 6-0 at the break — 24 minutes in which the Lions ran twice as many plays, yet settled for a lone touchdown, thanks to a pair of failures in the red zone. One Lawrence drive died at the Vikes’ one after an Erick Mayo fumble. The other withered when QB Brad Strauss threw incomplete three times after the Lions had a first-and-goal from the SM West eight.
“That hurt us by not scoring more than six points,” Wedd said.
Then Maloney put the hurt on the Lions when the Vikes opened the second half in the Wildcat. On the first play, Maloney ran for 26 yards. He would carry eight more times and finish with 122 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown scamper for his team’s second score.
“The Wildcat hurt us for a while,” LHS senior lineman Kharon Brown said. “It just was what it was.”
What is was was a combination of Maloney and all-league tailback Brett Sterbach, who finished with 156 yards on 28 carries, including a 12-yard TD burst.
“Those are probably two of the best athletes they have,” Wedd said. “Put them together, and you’ve got a handful.”
SM West’s defense was certainly a handful, harassing Strauss all night, forcing him into quick throws and shutting off running lanes. He completed only 14 of 31 passes for 213 yards. Worse, he threw three interceptions, one a critical theft by linebacker Marquan Osbey who rumbled 34 yards into the end zone with what proved to be the clincher with 9 1/2 minutes remaining.
Part of the problem was the Vikes’ secondary, featuring the aforementioned Maloney and Kez Demby, who had the other two interceptions.
“Their secondary right now is as good as Free State’s, if not better,” said Drake Hofer, the only Lions receiver who had much success. Hofer had seven catches for 104 yards.
Hofer’s 55-yard catch and run enabled the Lions to pull within a touchdown with 4 1/2 minutes left. But the Vikes, using mostly the Wildcat, were able to prevent the Lions from touching the ball again.
That was the last TD pass of Strauss’s prolific career and came on a night when he really wasn’t up to par physically because of a case of turf toe.
“We’ve been hiding it,” Wedd said. “He’s about 70 percent. You could really tell it when he rolled out to his left.”
Strauss admitted the toe that has bothered him for about a month caused some limitations in his ability to roll and throw, probably his strongest suit.
“I tried to forget about (it), but it’s been bothering me all week,” Strauss said. “I thought it might go away by the end of the week, but it didn’t.”
In retrospect, the Lions were a team that wouldn’t go away, either. They battled all season, losing just three times — twice to SM West and once to Free State.
“All week they’ve been telling us we’re too small,” Hofer said, “that (SM West) is going to beat us. But I thought our defense played great.”
Still, the season is over. The Lions won’t have a rematch with Free State next Friday and won’t have the opportunity to play in the state championship game.
“It’s hard right now,” Strauss said, his eyes red and his voice choked. “We’re very disappointed.”
Echoed Brown: “This is the greatest thing I’ve ever been a part of, and I can’t explain how said I am.”