Preston Whitworth wanted to savor the moment, so the Lee’s Summit’s running back-turned-quarterback watched from the top of the visitors’ bleachers with family and friends as the wild celebration continued on the field.
And who could blame him? Whitworth and the Tigers, somewhat incredibly, had just run the ball at will against Lee’s Summit West in pulling off a 20-17 overtime victory Friday on the Titans’ home field.
For a team that is stuck playing its third quarterback, a team that looked dead in the water after a 1-4 start, beating a West team ranked No. 4 in Class 6 was a big moment indeed.
“We just kind of figured out what was working for us throughout the first quarter and realized we could run it down their throats,” Whitworth said. “And we did.”
Lee’s Summit (4-5, 2-4 Suburban Gold) ran for a whopping 302 rushing yards. Whitworth led the way with 30 carries for 150 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner on a 4-yard run in overtime.
The Tigers attempted only three passes, all incompletions, but it didn’t matter.
Lee’s Summit’s unbalanced offense, of course, is a necessity.
Whitworth, though he occasionally took some snaps in the Tigers’ Wildcat formation, wasn’t supposed to be the quarterback.
But with Grant Baird’s injury during the summer and backup Darrias Pearsall also sidelined, Whitworth was all that was remained, so the Tigers became a ground-and-pound team.
“We’re beginning to build an identity,” Lee’s Summit coach Eric Thomas said. “I think our linemen tonight really took the next step in taking some pride in getting 3 to 5 yards at a time and eating up the clock.”
The Tigers had three drives of 80 yards or more, two that ended with touchdowns.
Lee’s Summit’s final possession was a microcosm of the game.
After Mykal Wiley’s 25-yard field goal put West (7-2, 4-2 Suburban Gold) ahead 17-14 in overtime, Whitworth plowed up the middle on three straight plays from the Titans’ 18-yard line.
Eventually, he found a big enough hole on the left side and blasted into the end zone for the game-winner.
“Guys got blocks, and I just walked into the end zone,” Whitworth said. “It was easy.”
Lee’s Summit also benefited from a defense that kept West out of synch, especially through the air.
With the score tied 14-14, West got the ball on its own 42-yard line with less than 2 minutes remaining.
The Titans reached the Tigers’ 11 with 17 seconds to play, but Ben Kobel pass intended for Cade Clemons in the end zone was picked off by Tigers cornerback Evan Sanders, who went out of bounds at the 1 — creating a bit more last-second tension.
“That (interception) was just huge,” Thomas said. “I was a little worried down on the 1-yard line. You’ve got to pound it out — safety wins the game for them.”
Instead, the game went to overtime as Lee’s Summit’s relentless ground assault overshadowed another stellar outing by West running back Phillip Brooks, who rushed for 208 yards on 25 carries. He also scored both of West’s touchdowns, the first on a 10-yard run that put the Titans up 7-0 in the first quarter.
West drove to the Lee’s Summit 4 on its next drive before turning it over on downs. The Tigers countered with a 96-yard march, capped by Whitworth’s first TD on a 1-yard run.
Brooks’ second TD, a darting and weaving 25-yard scamper, put West ahead 14-7 late in the third quarter, but Lee’s Summit answered with an 80-yard drive and tied the game on a 6-yard run by Davion Gavitt early in the fourth quarter.
Gavitt, a freshman, finished with 101 rushing yards.
“We didn’t play very well tonight,” West coach Vinny Careswell said. “We didn’t take care of business as far as stopping the run. Credit to Lee’s Summit. They found some weaknesses and exploited them.”
Thomas believes the Tigers found what makes them tick as they head into district play next week.
“I think we starting to figure out as team what we need to do — run the football, eat the clock, let the defense play,” Thomas said. “Our kids fought tonight. They played really, really well.”