All season long, Lee’s Summit football coach Eric Thomas emphasized that how the Tigers finished would be more important than how they started.
While Lee’s Summit finished short of reaching the district final, Thomas’ squad can still claim a strong finish.
The Tigers’ season came to an end Friday with a 21-10 loss at Park Hill in a Class 6, District 4 semifinal.
When these two teams first met Aug. 25 during the second week of the season, the outcome was considerably different.
Park Hill quarterback Billy Maples shredded the Tigers in that first meeting, throwing for 434 yards and a state-record nine touchdowns during a 66-35 victory. The Tigers trailed 56-21 by halftime.
During the playoff rematch, Maples threw for only 32 yards and one touchdown, and the Tigers actually led until the Trojans scored 21 unanswered points in the third quarter.
“We’re a much-improved football team than we were in week two,” Thomas said. “I think that changed a lot of things. To be up 3-0 at halftime, when the last time it was 50-something to whatever at halftime, was a big accomplishment for our kids.”
Jacob Mrachek gave Lee’s Summit a 3-0 lead with a 25-yard field goal that bounced over the crossbar with 6 minutes, 3 seconds left in the second quarter.
Park Hill drove deep into Lee’s Summit territory later in the period, but a fumble recovery by the Tigers helped them take the lead into halftime.
Lee’s Summit had the ball to start the second half and made it to midfield before a fluke fumble changed the game’s momentum.
Quarterback back Preston Whitworth had already picked up 11 yards on a carry when the ball was inadvertently kicked out of his hands.
Dashaun Powell pounced on the loose ball for Park Hill, setting up a 10-yard touchdown pass from Maples to Jaylin Noel for a 7-3 lead.
“It was just terrible luck,” Thomas said. “You feel bad for Preston, but I don’t think anybody carrying a football keeps that ball the way it happened. It was just crazy.”
Park Hill scored again on a 4-yard run by Ronald Bell on its next possession and Bell broke loose for a 49-yard score on the Trojans’ possession after that.
Park Hill finished with 373 rushing yards, 302 of them from running back Dorian Clayton.
The Tigers closed to within with 21-10 with a 36-yard touchdown pass from Whitworth to Mitchell Tinsley with 28 seconds left in the third quarter, but the Trojans stopped two long Lee’s Summit drives in the fourth quarter to protect their lead.
While Park Hill (9-2) moves on to play Rockhurst for the district title, Lee’s Summit ends the season 5-6 overall.
After starting the season 1-4, the Tigers won three straight before giving Park Hill a postseason scare.
“I’m very proud of the way we finished the season with our coaches and our kids,” Thomas said. “It’s nice going into an offseason feeling like we put everything out there and we overachieved.”