Amid laughter, shouts and cheers, Pioneer linebacker Josh Ammel stood to his full 6-foot-3-inch frame in a isolated corner of a cramped locker room.
He spoke of teamwork, heart and then, in his low, baritone voice, delivered one final message.
“Losing is no longer a thought at Leavenworth.”
After the evening the linebacker and the rest of the Pioneer defense just put together, the boast was well deserved.
Behind an outstanding defensive effort and an articulate performance by senior quarterback Judson Cole, the Leavenworth football team defeated Shawnee Mission Northwest 17-7 Friday. The squad is now 2-1, matching last year’s win total in just its third game of the season.
“They are starting to feel like they can win and that was the biggest thing when I got here, they didn’t have that,” LV coach Kevin Kopecky said. “This group of seniors have been with me all three years and have bought into what we have done. I think we can be a dangerous football team when we get some confidence.”
Leavenworth began the game with the ball Friday and wasted little time. On the first play, Cole hit Jeff George for a 42-yard bomb. However, the drive stalled and the Cougars had good field position after a failed fake punt attempt.
Yet, as a sign of things to come, the Pioneer defense responded. Shawnee Mission Northwest drove into the LV red zone, where a bone-jarring Leavenworth hit forced a fumble.
The turnover allowed the Pioneer offense to again march down the field before ultimately punting. Northwest did the same minutes later and the first quarter ended scoreless.
In the second, the game opened up. On the ninth play of the period’s first drive, Cole found George for a seven-yard TD strike. The extra point made the score 7-0 LV with eight minutes until half.
Given the lead, the game entered the hands of the Pioneer defense, which again delivered. Four plays into the next possession, Leavenworth created another fumble and recovered it at the Cougars 41.
“One of first things we talk about Saturday morning besides the score is the turnover margin,” Kopecky said. “We don’t have much posted sign wise in our locker room, but that is one thing we chart all year and we were a little bit behind so the defense wanted to get caught up badly tonight.”
Due to penalties though, the Pioneers could not take advantage as a Cole 40-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left. Minutes later, Izaiah Ross intercepted a Northwest pass, but the home team couldn’t capitalize for the second straight time. At the half, Leavenworth led 7-0.
Page 2 of 2 - Coming out of the break, the Pioneer defense that yet again set the tone. The squad forced Northwest into a three-and-out in the first possession, and four plays later Jason Randall scampered for a 10-yard TD to place LV up 14-0.
After that, the Cougars methodically strutted down the field before penalties and a sack by Leavenworth’s Jarred Donnelson forced a punt.
The home team did nothing with its series and the visitors took over a minute before the fourth quarter. Five minutes and nine plays later, the Cougars finally got on the board with a seven-yard, fourth down TD pass.
That left 6:32 left in regulation that the Pioneers wasted half of with its following drive, which resulted in a 37-yard field goal from Cole.
All that set up the cherry on top for a Leavenworth defensive unit that carried its team Friday night.
After one first down, the Pioneers shut down the Cougars four plays in a row to nail down its second win of the season.
Cole finished the game unofficially 10-of-17 for 162 yards and one touchdown. He also ran for 58 yards while Randall carried the ball 22 times for 96 yards. George ended the night with 70 yards receiving on five catches a TD.
Leavenworth, 2-1, will travel to Olathe West Friday for a 7 p.m. contest.
“Coach Allison and that defensive side of the ball had everyone ready to go,” Kopecky said. “Josh Ammel and that defensive line really played their hearts out.”