The Pioneers turned in a statement win Friday in their best played game of the season. Down two touchdowns in the first quarter, the Pioneers battled back for a thrilling 30-23 win over Olathe Northwest.
After looking like the Pioneers of old in the first quarter, Leavenworth came to life in the second, cementing their first three-win season in over 10 years.
Yeah, these aren't the roll-over-and-die Pioneers people have grown accustomed to.
"This was the kind of game I've been waiting for," coach Kevin Koepecky said. "I wanted to see how we'd bounce back from being down big. It's a huge win."
That fact was most evident with the clock winding down in the fourth quarter. The game was locked at 23 and Leavenworth had just been handed a gift — Northwest's long-snapper sent a snap soaring over the punter's head.
By the time the punter got the ball back, Jason Ammel was in his face. Isiah Ross promptly broke two tackles and refused to go down on a 41-yard run. Judson Cole then handed it to running back Jason Randall, who dove in for the one-yard, go-ahead touchdown. Leavenworth 30, Olathe Northwest 23.
It certainly didn't look good early on. On Leavenworth's first two drives, dropped passes and line-of-scrimmage runs were the theme. It was too easy for the Ravens while it was still light outside. They scored on their first two drives.
But when the lights at the College Boulevard Activity Center went on, Jason Randall and the Pioneer offense started putting on a show. Contained in the first 15 minutes, Randall broke a 50-yard run into Northwest territory. A few plays later, Randall took a handoff from the five-yard line for Leavenworth's first score to cut the lead to six (after a 2-point converson).
Leavenworth's defense stepped up too, forcing consecutive punts. On offense, Randall went right back to work. His big runs opened up the pass. With the defense stacking the box, Cole threw a downfield jump ball for Jeff George midway through the second quarter. The lanky 6-foot-4 receiver brought it down and jogged into the end zone. The extra point gave the Pioneers their first lead, 15-14.
The Pioneers stopped the Ravens on their next drive thanks to a big Cole hit on third down that forced an incompletion. Northwest had to settle for a field goal. The Pioneers went into the locker room trailing by two.
In the second half, it was right back to the intrepid Randall. Pinned at their own nine after an ONW punt, Randall turned on the burners following a Cole handoff for 90-yards to the one-yard line. The run featured a couple missed tackles, an ankle-breaking stutter-step move, and Randall's deadly breakaway speed.
Two plays later, Cole kept it for a one-yard touchdown and then kept it again for a two-point conversion.
On their next drive, the winless Ravens showed they weren't going to lay down, scoring a long TD. The extra point snap was mishandled, so the Pioneers got it back dead-locked in a tie. The tie put an end to the track meet and the fourth quarter turned into a tense battle of wills to see who would pull through. The teams exchanged punts, but the Pioneers were able to pounce on the Ravens' botched punt snap.
"This was an awesome win," Cole said.
The Pioneers have not won back-to-back games in 12 years.
"I don't care about any of that," Koepecki laughed. "All we're focused on is this year's team, not the history."
The Pioneers, 3-1, will have another big test next week against Olathe Northwest. Win or lose, one thing is for sure: this team will fight.