Matt Tait: Props to the LHS football team for its grace following a tough defeat
photo by: Carter Gaskins
Dream seasons aren’t supposed to end the way the Lawrence High football team’s did on Friday night.
After a wild start that gave you the feeling that the Lions really might be destined to become the first LHS football team since 1995 to bring home a state championship trophy, things went south in a hurry and never stopped plummeting.
Derby, which played far bigger, faster and stronger than anything the Lions saw on film, had too much for the home team in this one. And after fumbling on the game’s first play and spotting the Lions a 6-0 lead four plays later, the Panthers never flinched, ripping off 40 consecutive points while cruising to a 40-20 victory and into the Class 6A state semifinals.
But a funny thing happened on the way to that final score, which no LHS player will remember fondly in the years to come.
Knowing midway through the second half that a comeback for the ages was not in the cards, the Lions had time to get a grasp on their fate.
The end was nearing. And the clock was ticking on a season that saw so many big moments, memorable performances and dominant victories.
The Lions knew it. Like they always have, they kept playing hard and they fought until the final horn sounded. But they knew the end had arrived.
Watching that reality set in well before the final buzzer provided the opportunity for this team to do something special when the clock finally hit :00. And the Lions took advantage.
Smiles and hugs dominated the postgame scene and took the place of anger, bitterness and the awful feeling associated with a crushing defeat.
There were tears. After all, some of these guys will never play another down of competitive football in their lives. And the end of any high school season, no matter how prepared one is for it, is never something you welcome with open arms.
But a 9-1 record is nothing to scoff at, and mere minutes after that one defeat went final, it was clear that so many of these Chesty Lions were not only aware of that but also ready to embrace it.
Star running back Devin Neal made sure his teammates kept their heads up while handing out postgame hugs to friends, family and fellow-Lions. He even insisted that his teammates smiled for the senior photo at midfield.
Tenacious defender Cole Mondi carried a look of contentment that often only comes after a major victory as he reflected with friends and teammates on the field. There’s no doubt Mondi wanted the game to go differently, but he wasn’t about to let one bad outcome spoil what this group of football players had accomplished this season and in the years of battling together that led to it.
So the look on Mondi’s face fit the moment and, in many ways, was symbolic of what the entire team was experiencing despite the tough night.
I’ve long believed that if you have to go down, it’s sometimes better to go down on the wrong side of a lopsided outcome instead of suffering a last-minute, heartbreaking loss.
The pain stings all the same. But when it’s finally over, you’ve already gotten out to a little bit of a head-start on the healing.
The Lions won’t forget this one any time soon. And they’ll always think back to the 2020 team that battled COVID and some of the best teams in the state en route to positioning themselves to make a serious run at a state title.
What’s more, they’ll always believe they were good enough to get it done.
It didn’t happen. But that fact paved the way for this group to accomplish something far more impressive than winning another football game. They should be proud. Today and always.