When Free State junior Kameron Lake jogged onto the field with five seconds remaining in the City Showdown Friday, his teammates understood everything that was on the line: Bragging rights against a crosstown rival. An undefeated regular season. The No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
Lawrence High’s football team rallied with two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to tie the score. Lake lined up for a 28-yard field goal and his teammates on the sideline felt all of the pressure.
“I didn’t even want to watch it, honestly,” Free State junior Keenan Garber said.
Once Lake signaled to holder Jordan Preston that he was ready, he drilled the ball through the uprights for the game-winning score in a 24-21 victory at LHS with one second left, adding another thrilling chapter to the City Showdown.
Lake, who joined the football team during his freshman year when his uncle, Adam Barmann, was an assistant coach, isn’t a stranger to pressure situations. He kicked a game-winning field goal from 40 yards in the state quarterfinals last year.
“It felt like a playoff game, just like that,” said Lake, who was mobbed by classmates afterward. “They were all telling me to make it. I was super jittery.”
The Firebirds (8-0) set up the game-winning kick when they forced a turnover on downs on Lawrence’s final possession. On 4th-and-3, Lawrence senior quarterback Dante Jackson (160 rushing yards, 71 passing yards) was tackled inches from the first down marker by Free State senior linebackers David Johnson and Bo Miller.
Taking over possession at the team’s own 40-yard line with 29 seconds left, Free State coach Bob Lisher said he considered kneeling the ball and sending the game into overtime. The Firebirds lost fumbles on the two previous possessions, but he liked how they were moving the ball.
With one final crack at putting points on the scoreboard in regulation, Free State senior quarterback Gage Foster (142 rushing yards, touchdown) completed a pair of passes to senior receiver Jake Rittman. The Firebirds believed they were already in field goal position before junior running back Jax Dineen (183 yards) followed with a 16-yard run to the 10-yard line.
“Once we get him close,” Lisher said of Lake, “he’s pretty accurate.”
Facing Free State’s defense, which Lawrence coach Dirk Wedd called “by far the best defense we’ve played,” the Lions picked up key first downs midway through the second half.
In the third quarter, on 4th-and-3 from their own 27-yard line, Jackson ran for 25 yards on a bootleg. It was the start of an eventual 17-play, 80-yard drive. On 4th-and-goal, Jackson tossed a five-yard touchdown pass to Jalen Dudley, who escaped defenders after Jackson scrambled.
Trailing 21-14, Lawrence senior linebacker Ja’Relle Dye helped force a fumble, which the Lions recovered at midfield. Four plays later, Jackson tied the game on a 44-yard touchdown run, showing off his speed and shiftiness in the open field.
“He’s just so slippery,” Free State’s Johnson said of Jackson. “He’s such a good athlete and so hard to bring down.”
Once the Lions (4-4) tied the score with 7:05 remaining, they relied on their defense — which allowed 62 points last week — for one more stop. Inside of the 30-yard line, the Lions stopped three straight run plays. On 4th-and-11, Caleb Mondi strip-sacked Foster and senior safety Harry King recovered his second fumble of the night.
“Just an amazing show of heart, character and all of the qualities that you try to install in a football team,” said Lawrence coach Dirk Wedd, who plans to retire after this season. At halftime, more than 20 of his former players greeted him on the field when he returned from the locker room.
When the Lions had the ball, with the score tied in the final minute, Free State’s Miller admitted players were “starting to kind of get a little nervous.” But all season long, the Firebirds have prided themselves on their defense and they earned one more stop.
After Lake’s kick went through the uprights, Jackson said it reminded him of the Lions' postseason loss last year, which ended on a field goal in the final seconds. Free State’s players hugged each other, jumping up and down along the sideline.
“This is what you dream of,” Johnson said. “You beat your rivals by three, game winning field goal, 8-0, still undefeated, No. 1 seed in the whole playoffs. It’s everything we’ve all dreamed for.”
In the first round of the Class 6A playoffs next week, Free State, the top seed in the West bracket, will play host to No. 16-seed Wichita North (0-8). The Lions earned the No. 6 seed in the East bracket and will face No. 11 Blue Valley Northwest (2-6) at home.
FREE STATE 24, LAWRENCE 21
FS | LHS
First downs 17 | 13
Rushes-yards 46-358 | 45-228
Passing yards 33 | 71
Total offense 391 | 299
Fumbles-lost 5-3 | 2-1
Penalties-yards 6-45 | 5-40
Score by quarters
Free State 7 7 7 3 — 24
Lawrence 7 0 0 14 — 21
FS: Jax Dineen 23-183, Gage Foster 19-142 2 TD, Zach Wilson 2-8, Keenan Garber 2-25 TD, Team 2-negative 22.
LHS: Dante Jackson 22-160 TD, Hunter Krom 18-53 TD, Angel Garcia 4-12, Ekow Boye-Doe 1-3.
FS: Foster 4-7—33.
LHS: Jackson 11-20—71 TD.
FS: Jake Rittman 3-32, Garber 1-1.
LHS: Jalen Dudley 6-48 TD, Ekow Boye-Doe 5-23.
HOW THEY SCORED
8:43 — Hunter Krom 10 run. Ross Brungardt kick. (LHS 7, FS 0.)
3:20 — Gage Foster 5 run. Kameron Lake kick. (LHS 7, FS 7.)
3:45 — Keenan Garber 16 run. Lake kick. (FS 14, LHS 7.)
4:31 — Foster 46 run. Lake kick. (FS 21, LHS 7.)
9:54 — Jalen Dudley 5 pass from Dante Jackson. Brungardt kick. (FS 21, LHS 14.)
7:05 — Jackson 44 run. Brungardt kick. (FS 21, LHS 21.)
0:01 — Lake 28 field goal. (FS 24, LHS 21.)