Wristen: Despite loss, playoff game was a classic
In a weekend loaded with football games that made your heart race - think Kansas' 76-39 slaughter of Nebraska on the college scene and the New England Patriots' stunning 24-20 come-from-behind victory over the Indianapolis Colts on the professional level - it's quite possible the weekend's top nail-biter took place in Lansing on Friday night.
No, folks in red and black didn't leave Frank Graham Field with a smile on their faces after Lansing's 21-14 loss to Gardner-Edgerton in the regional round of the Class 5A state playoffs, but they did witness one of the biggest and wildest games in school history.
From the unstoppable early offense, to the ferocious defense during the second half, to the indescribable final two minutes, it was a game that will be talked about for years.
"It was a great high school football game by both teams," LHS coach Bill Pekarek said. "You feel bad for your kids because they worked their tails off the whole freaking game."
Yes, the Lions are bumming right now. It's one thing to suffer a season-ending loss - 15 of the 16 playoff teams will do that - but it's another to see a lead slip away in the final seconds like the Lions did when Gardner quarterback Zach Carlton connected with tight end Ross Ditch for the go-ahead score with 20.2 seconds left in the game.
Adding to the Lions' agony was the fact that senior quarterback Bobby Hauver fired a perfect strike to fellow senior Stephen Didde for a 52-yard touchdown as time expired, only to have those points taken away because of a holding penalty.
But those final moments alone didn't make Friday's game an instant classic. You also must consider that each team made a goal-line stand during that decisive quarter when the opponent was literally inches from the endzone. There's also the fact that the LHS defense stopped Gardner from scoring inside the 20-yard line three times in the second half.
Friday's game had all the drama of a state championship game minus the trophy. It was the way a playoff game should be, and the fact that it featured two of Class 5A's rising powers made it all the more entertaining.
Even in defeat, Lansing proved something Friday night. It proved that it isn't just a small-school pretender trying to hang with the big boys. The Lions were in over their heads during last year's 36-12 regional loss to Turner. They learned from that experience, however, and they came back stronger, wiser and tougher.
On Friday night they proved they were 5A contenders.
Seniors Kevin Johnson, Chris Hill, Justin Smith, Brad Terron, David Dickson, Zach Robinson, Mycol Bowen, Nathan Norris, Brendan Becker, Hauver and Didde don't get to play another game as Lions, but they leave a legacy of winning and increased expectations for the program. In four years at LHS, Lansing posted a 29-13 record and made the playoffs every season.
Tradition has been firmly established and the bar has been raised. Now it's up to the LHS juniors to carry the torch. Fortunately for them, offseason motivation should be easy to find. All they have to do is think back to that unforgettable game against Gardner.