Lions defeat Firebirds for first win in City Showdown since 2015
Even against crosstown rival Free State, it was business as usual for the Lawrence High football team on Friday night. After a somewhat shaky start, the Lions found their rhythm and cruised to a 49-20 win over the Firebirds at FSHS.
“They shook (the nerves) off after the first drive,” LHS head coach Steve Rampy said. “The second and third quarter was about as good as we can play. That was as well as we have played on both sides of the ball all year.”
It was the Lions’ first win in the City Showdown since 2015, and it allowed them to lock up the No. 1 seed in the Class 6A West playoff bracket with a 7-0 record. Free State, meanwhile, fell to 0-5 after the lopsided loss in the regular-season finale.
“It means the world to me (to beat Free State),” senior receiver John Green said. “Coming as a third-generation student at Lawrence High, it means so much to me and my family to beat Free State. I mean, I bleed red and black.”
The Lions’ approach to the rivalry game was perhaps best illustrated on their final drive in the first half.
Lawrence (No. 1 in Class 6A) put together a methodical nine-play, 44-yard drive to grab a 28-0 lead over Free State at the intermission. The Lions leaned on their ground game on that particular possession, utilizing both of their senior running backs — Graham Hough and Devin Neal.
To keep the Firebirds off balance, senior quarterback Jackson Dooley also connected on a couple of passes to senior receivers John Green and Ntense Obono. Neal then capped off the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run with six seconds remaining in the first half.
Neal casually tossed the ball to the official and nonchalantly made his way to the sideline. There was no celebration by the Lions, who made sure to keep their emotions in check all night to snap a four-game skid in this rivalry.
“We didn’t start out the best,” Green said. “Once we got used to it and treated it like any other game, we exploded.”
It wasn’t all smooth sailing, however, as the Lions and Firebirds traded punts on their opening possessions.
With limited fans in attendance, junior Truman Juelsgaard provided some much-needed energy for the visitors by intercepting an errant pass from junior quarterback Jet Dineen. One play later, Neal scored the first points of the night on a 36-yard touchdown run.
The KU commit delivered a nifty spin on the long run, giving LHS a 7-0 advantage in the opening period. It was the first big play of the night for Neal, who finished with 319 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 28 carries.
Lawrence’s offensive line unit — Noah Smith, Acen Villegas, Porter Dannevik, Lane Luna and Drew Meyer — opened lanes all night for the ground game.
Hough scored a trio of rushing touchdowns and made a remarkable one-handed snag in the second half for his biggest highlight of the night. Neal netted a 71-yard touchdown run on the Lions’ first offensive play of the second half to remove any doubt about the outcome.
“We just played like we can play,” Rampy said. “I’m proud of the way we played.”
The Firebirds struggled to find any offensive rhythm in the early going of their first game back from quarantine. A 12-yard run by junior running back Dash Cleveland on the final play of the second quarter was Free State’s longest play in the first half.
A lot of that is a credit to Lawrence’s prolific play on the defensive side of the ball though. Senior linebackers Cole Mondi and Karson Green made several stops, including an impressive solo tackle by Green on a reverse to stuff Elijah Harshaw for a loss on third down.
Seniors Dylan Gillespie, Preston Greenwood and Teagan Flynn were constantly in the backfield on pass plays to make life difficult on the opposing signal caller. When Dineen was able to avoid the pressure, he linked up with junior receiver Jake Patchen through the air.
Dineen and Patchen connected on a 16-yard touchdown pass for Free State’s first points of the night. Dineen fired another 20-yard touchdown pass to Harshaw later in the fourth quarter. Dineen added a 20-yard touchdown run in the final minute of the fourth period, helping the Firebirds show some fight to end the game.
“Second half, the guys really came out and played hard,” FSHS head coach Kevin Stewart said. “We worked hard in the second half and didn’t give up. Got some points on the board in the fourth quarter, so that was good.”
Lawrence 49, Free State 20
LHS | FS
First downs 21 | 14
Rushes-yards 44-381 | 45-243
Passing yards 137 | 117
Total offense 518 | 360
Fumbles-lost 0-0 | 0-0
Interceptions 0 | 1
Penalties-yards 5-40 | 2-20
Score by quarters
Lawrence 7 21 14 7 — 49
Free State 0 0 0 20 — 20
LHS: Devin Neal 28-319; Graham Hough 10-44; Jeremy Jacobson 5-23. Sacks: 1-(minus 5)
FSHS: Dash Cleveland 16-44; Jet Dineen 17-152; Jacobee Williams 7-58; Elijah Harhsaw 3-0. Sacks: 2-(minus 12)
LHS: Jackson Dooley 10-for-15 for 137 yards
FSHS: Jet Dineen 7-for-19 for 117 yards.
LHS: Tre’ Jackson 3-52; Devin Neal 2-28; Graham Hough 2-39; NTense Obono 1-5; Sam Sedo 1-8.
FSHS: Jake Patchen 5-73; Drew Bradford 1-20; Manny Epelle 1-24.
HOW THEY SCORED
3:25 — Devin Neal 36 run. Connor Gellender kick good (LHS 7, FS 0)
8:23 — Graham Hough 6 run. Gellender kick good. (LHS 14, FS 0)
5:14 — Tre’ Jackson 26 pass from Jackson Dooley. Gellender kick good. (LHS 21, FS 0)
6.2 — Neal 1 run. Gellender kick good. (LHS 28, FS 0)
8:13 — Neal 71 run. Gellender kick good. (LHS 35, FS 0)
1:23 — Hough 1 run. (LHS 41, FS 0)
10:08 — Jake Patchen 16 pass from Jet Dineen. Joey Wood kick good. (LHS 42, FS 7)
7:09 — Elijah Harshaw 20 pass from Dineen. (LHS 42, FS 13)
3:07 — Hough 1 run. Gellender kick good. (LHS 49, FS 13)
29.9 — Dineen 20 run. Wood kick good. (LHS 49, FS 20)