Survive and advance
By Jim Bradford PrepsKC Staff Writer
OLATHE — Olathe East was on their heels as they slowly ran into the lockerrom at halftime.
Not much of anything went right in the first half.
Then not much went wrong in the second half.
The Hawks battled back from a 16-0 first-half deficit to advance in the Class 6A playoffs with a 20-16 win over Lawrence-Free State Friday night at the College Boulevard Activity Center.
After holding the Firebirds to a three-and-out on their first possession of the second half, Brandon Willingham scored on the Hawks first play from scrimmage and the comeback was on.
The Hawks had a total of 25 yards of offense and in the first half, but more than tripled that on Willingham’s 59-yard touchdown run.
It was the first of three Willingham touchdown runs on the night. He finished with 190 yards on 33 carries to propel East into next week’s sectional game against Shawnee Mission Northwest, a 14-10 winner over SM West.
Before Willingham got the Hawks on the board, East head coach Jeff Meyers admitted there was some concern.
“We were concerned at halftime,” he said. “The kids had their heads down. We haven’t been in the situation a whole lot.
“We challenged them and they responded to the challenge.”
When Willingham crossed the goal line to pull East to within 16-6, he didn’t want to stop, running 10 or 15 yards out of the end zone before pulling up.
“That first play was so big,” he said. “Coach talked to us (at halftime) about getting back out there getting back in the game by smashing it at them.
“We were so ready to get back in the game. We were like, ‘why not do this now.’
Meyers was thrilled with the way the Hawks were able to bounce back so quickly.
“It was instant realization of what we had said and what had happened,” he said.
The two teams traded punched for the next few drives before the Hawks capitalized on back-to-back fumbles by the Firebirds.
The Firebirds were putting together a nice drive three minutes into the fourth quarter when quarterback Dylan Perry dove over the top on a fourth down play. He coughed the ball up on the play and Alex Michaud jumped on it.
Four plays later, Willingham took a fourth-down handoff over the right tackle, ran into the line, bounced off two defenders and ran 53 yards in for the score. The two –point conversion was no good, so the Hawks still had work to do.
The Firebirds then fumbled the ensuing kickoff, setting East up with a first down at the Free State 19. Six plays later, Willingham went in from three yards out to put the Hawks up for good.
“Coach always talks about making our own luck and that’s what we did,” Willingham said.
The Firebirds got on the board with a 30-yard field goal with three minutes left in the opening quarter.
Perry scored the first of two first-half touchdowns just seconds into the second quarter. The next came with 30 seconds left in the half. Both were from 4-yards out.
East didn’t get a first down until the 5:09 mark of the second quarter and that was courtesy of a pass interference penalty.
“I really thought we played well in the first half, both defensively and offensively,” said Free State head coach Bob Lisher. “You couldn’t ask for a better first half.”
The Hawks had just 58 yards of offense until a snap went over the head of punter Brent Guiser for a 33-yard loss with seven seconds left in the first half.
Meanwhile, Free State was clicking on all cylinders with Schenck back at 100 percent. He had just five yards on five carries in the last meeting between the two teams.
Perry was sacked eight times in the last meeting and finished negative yards on the ground. Perry had 73 yards rushing and 158 yards passing. Schenck had 74 yards rushing.
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