Back to all Features

After a rough game to open the season, Lawrence High senior Schance Wilkerson went three weeks before he saw the field again for the Lions.

“If you don’t perform, you don’t play,” first-year coach Clint Bowen said. “You’re going to earn it in this program. He continues to work, grind, and he’s played much better.”

Wilkerson did just that. And without him, Lawrence High would not have earned a 27-19 home win over crosstown rival Free State (6-2) on Friday night, ending the Firebirds’ bid for the Sunflower League title.

With the score tied at 19, Wilkerson plunged into the end zone for a two-yard touchdown to give the Lions the lead for good.

Free State marched the ball down the field to set up one last shot to the end zone for quarterback Jet Dineen that was knocked down by a Lawrence High defender.

“It feels great to beat the city rivals,” Wilkerson said. “it’s amazing. My heart was racing. I feel like every time we needed a run, our linemen would stick their foot in the ground and make the blocks.”

Wilkerson finished with 158 total yards and two rushing touchdowns and scored a two-point conversion for the final points of the game.

The senior back didn’t just finish the drive, he started it with a seven-yard run after breaking multiple tackles. The Lions (6-2) picked up a few more first downs but found themselves facing a third and 12 from the 33-yard line with 1:23 remaining and the score tied at 19.

Senior quarterback Truman Juelsgaard was nearly sacked on the ensuing play but was able to launch the ball down the sideline to junior tight end Cole Watson. Watson rose above a Firebird defender and snatched the ball out of the air for a 28-yard catch.

Lawrence High scored two plays later to take the lead.

“There’s not a whole lot of coaching on that one,” Bowen said. “Cole went up and got the ball. It was a big-time play.”

The Lions took a 19-6 lead into the locker room, but the Firebirds came out swinging on the opening drive. Dineen, a senior, rushed for 129 of his game-high 254 rushing yards in the third quarter.

“He’s a beast,” Free State coach Kevin Stewart said of Dineen. “I love that kid. He’s got all the heart in the world and he put the team on his back for a little bit. He’s an amazing football player.”

The Lions hit a handful of big plays in the first half, with the first one being a 56-yard pass from Juelsgaard to Wilkerson, who then converted a one-yard touchdown run to give the Lions a 7-0 lead in the opening minutes.

LHS built on the early momentum, too. After forcing a quick Free State three-and-out, Lawrence High junior Sam Sedo blocked a Free State punt and senior Kirvyn Heck snatched the ball and sprinted 24 yards to give the Lions a 13-0 lead.

Dineen struggled to find room to run early in the game, as none of his first seven runs went for more than four yards. However, his eighth run of the game was the shot in the arm for the Firebirds.

Dineen eluded Lions’ defenders in the backfield and dashed 83 yards for a touchdown to bring the Firebirds within six, 13-7, with 6:09 remaining in the second quarter.

Juelsgaard and Wilkerson combined for another big play, this one a 35-yard pass on third down, to lead the Lions down the field on the very next drive. Senior Brayden Heck capped off the drive with a five-yard touchdown run.

Free State senior running back Dash Cleveland coughed up the ball and Lawrence High recovered inside the Free State 20 with 14 seconds remaining. The Lions quickly marched down to the two-yard line and opted to go for the touchdown instead of a field goal on the last play of the half.

Firebird senior linebacker Quez Lee shot into the backfield and wrapped up Wilkerson for a one-yard to keep the Lions’ lead at 19-7 heading into halftime.

“It was a huge play,” Stewart said. “It kept us in the game.”

The Firebirds rallied all the way back in the second half, but the Lions got a stop and score when they needed it most to close the deal.

“For the defense to come back and be mentally tough enough to get a stop in the fourth quarter and then the offense to go score,” Bowen said, “I thought it was a big grow-up moment for the program.”