Friday night’s Class 2 district title game between Lawson and Lexington had all the makings of a high-scoring affair, as both offenses have been lighting up scoreboards all season.
And in the first half, that proved to be true, as the two teams matched each other score-for-score, leading to a 21-all tie at halftime. The game had that feeling that the first team to force a turnover or string together a few stops would come away with a win.
The Lawson defense would answer the call.
The first three Lexington drives of the second half would go interception, turnover on downs, punt, and that was all Lawson needed to build a 35-21 lead, as they would hang on for a 38-35 victory.
“Right out of the half we knew they were going to come at us,” Cardinal linebacker and running back Adrian Eskew said. “They hit us, but we hit harder.”
Added Lawson head coach Todd Dunn, “In the second half we just got back to playing our defense, our base defense. The kids got more comfortable. We didn’t really make any major adjustments.”
The first big play from the defense came on a third-and-17 for Lexington, as they tried a rare pass attempt deep down the field that was intercepted by Max Ross and returned to Minutemen 3. Two plays later Eskew was in the end zone from 1 yard out for a 28-21 lead.
On the next Lexington drive, they were able to get into Cardinal territory but the drive eventually stalled at the Lawson 23, as a fourth-and-8 pass attempt came up 2 yards short.
The Cardinal offense capitalized again, going to the run game again and again, with Eskew getting the final six carries of the drive, the last being a 10-yard score for a 35-21 lead.
“The key for our kids and to get them some confidence was just to get them off the field,” Dunn said. “They pound you. In the second half we played much better on defense. I think our depth became a factor. We have several guys that we can rotate in on the defensive line, and in this kind of game that is crucial.
“We knew if we could just get a stop, we felt like we could score.”
The Minutemen made things interesting down the stretch. A 41-yard touchdown pass from Reese Gassen to Ryan Near made it 35-28 with four minutes, 31 seconds left in the game. Lawson would answer with a 22-yard field from Cody Glenn with 2:52 left, which looked like it might put the game out of reach. But Alvaro Porras returned the ensuing kickoff 84 yards for a touchdown to cut the deficit to 3.
Lawson would go on to recover the onside kick and earn two first downs on the ground, allowing them to run out the clock.
“They gave a little more effort (on defense) and we weren’t sustaining our blocks like we were in the beginning of the game,” Lexington head coach Kyle Barkley said of his teams offensive struggles early in the second half. “There were too many plays we couldn’t capitalize on that they gave us, and they did. They’re a well-coached and fundamentally sound team.”
Near the end of the first half, Lexington looked poised to go into the locker room with a 21-14 lead before Lawson struck from deep. Glenn rolled to his right and hoisted a perfect pass for Ross in stride, a 48-yard touchdown strike to tie it at 21 with just 1:06 before halftime.
“It’s good to pound the ball, let them get used to it, and then go over the top,” Eskew said. “That was a huge play before the half. It was a turning point.”
The play by Glenn was something Dunn has gotten used to seeing from his senior quarterback.
“It was by design (for him to roll out) but he still had to get out of there. There was some heat on him,” Dunn said. “You see that a lot from him. He has great vision down the field. It was a great throw and a great catch.”
Lexington finished the season with a 10-2 mark, but didn’t go down easy.
“I’m proud of our effort, especially our seniors,” Barkley said. “They’ve busted their tails for the last three years. The dedication and sacrifice they’ve put in for this program would be unheard of at some places. “
Lawson is also 10-2 on the year and they advance to face Summit Christian in the Class 2 state quarterfinals next Saturday. While the focus turns to the Eagles now, Eskew couldn’t help but enjoy this win over the same team that knocked them out of the playoffs a season ago.
“It feels amazing,” he said. “We got redemption.”