Archive for Thursday, November 10, 2005

Upset within grasp

Lions keep it close for a half with No. 1 Holton

November 10, 2005

The shoulder-to-shoulder crowd at Frank Graham Field rose to its feet Saturday night as halftime arrived with the Lansing High football team trailing top-ranked Holton by just a field goal.

For 24 minutes, the Lions held the Wildcats' steamroller-style rushing attack in check better than anybody had all season. One of the greatest upsets in recent Kansas high school football history was in grasp and the Lansing faithful could sense it.

"That's what we thought at halftime," LHS coach Bill Pekarek said of his squad's chances of winning. "That's what we tried to tell our guys is that we've got to come right out and make some things happen. We were getting the ball back. We needed to bring it down the field and score."

But Lansing didn't score. It marched 34 yards to the Holton 46 on a blend of running plays. A dropped pass and an overthrow caused the drive to stall, however.

That was all the opening the Wildcats needed. They erupted for three third-quarter touchdowns and pulled away for a 36-7 victory.

The loss left plenty of doubt in the Lions' minds as to what might have been, if only that first drive in the third quarter had reached the end zone or they'd done a better job tackling in the second half.

"We felt like we could take this game," senior fullback Lance Fink said. "We went into the half saying, 'We're in this game. They're not that good.' But then we came out in the second half kind of flat."

Lansing trailed just 10-7 at halftime, and the game was as evenly matched as the score up to that point. Holton outgained LHS just 153-128 in the first half, and defensive linemen Jason Bowman, Brett Wessel and linebackers David Kern, Jeff Slater, Joe Kohl and Fink constantly broke through the line to stuff the run.

"Our defense did an amazing job," Lansing quarterback Matt Warner said. "I never thought we'd be able to hold them to 10 points in one half."

The Lions' passing game gave the Wildcats all sorts of problems in the first half, but a few halftime adjustments by the defense created lots of trouble in the second half.

"They were bringing stuff I'd never seen before," Warner said of Holton's defensive front. "I don't think I was prepared for this game. I didn't know some of the defenses. I've never seen some of those."

Although the game got away from Lansing in the second half and the Lions were eliminated in the regional championship game for the second year in a row, Pekarek said he was proud of his players for all they accomplished this year. Their 9-2 record was the best single-season mark in program history. They also won a playoff game - a 31-28 victory over Perry-Lecompton in the bidistrict championship - for the second year in a row.

"We've got a lot of good football players in that locker room and we're proud of all of the things that they've done this year," Pekarek said.

Lansing will lose 19 seniors to graduation, most of which played key roles in the back-to-back postseason appearances. Those seniors - Fink, Bowman, Wessel, Kern, Slater, Warner, Ryan Robbins, E.J. Corinealdi, Steve Lillard, Jordan Pratt, James Horton, Brian Cordes, John Edmonds, Chris Clemmons, Casey Gates, Greg Stevenson, Logan Ryan, Stephen Fischer and Brian Smith - have helped LHS post a 17-5 record during the last two years.

"Our senior class, they have helped raise the bar of what we want Lansing football to be," Pekarek said. "They've set that bar pretty high. I told them as coaches we're going to be trying to bring those next teams to take that next step. That's what our drive is going to be, and hopefully we can do it in the next few years."

The Lions will return numerous key contributors from this year's squad in 2006. Among the returning starters will be junior left tackle Peter Willcott, junior tailback Kyle Grape (418 yards rushing), junior receiver and kick returner J.T. Collins (10 catches, 120 yards), sophomore defensive back Justin Smith (47 tackles) and junior linebacker Joe Kohl (138 tackles, five interceptions, four fumble recoveries).

Sophomore defensive lineman Mycol Bowen and sophomore wide receiver Stephen Didde also saw frequent action on the varsity squad this year.

Injuries cut short the seasons of junior linebacker Kyle Miller and junior defensive back Chris Mann, but both should be healthy next year.

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