The Shawnee Mission East offense that worked the Leavenworth High School defense during the first half of Friday’s 41-17 Pioneer loss goes by many names.
The wishbone, the triple-option, or the multiple-option offense.
On Friday night, it was merely sleight of hand.
Like a magician rubbing his hands on a fixed deck of cards, Lancer senior quarterback Gunnar Englund never quite showed the hand he was working with as he seamlessly transitioned between fakes and handoffs.
It was too much for the normally stout Pioneer defense during the first half, and by the end of the night the Lancers had pounded the Pioneers for 362 rushing yards.
At a time when the shotgun offense is preferred, head coach Mark Littrell said for such a traditional offensive system, it sure was difficult to stop.
“The ironic thing about that offense is that’s the old wishbone that, 20 years ago, everybody ran it,” Littrell said. “Then when people started running spread, no one knew how to defend the spread. Now they go back to running the wishbone triple-option and it’s hard. … It takes awhile to get used to it.”
A 27-3 lead at halftime charged the Pioneers more than anything.
After getting drubbed in front of a packed Lancer crowd, the Pioneers entered the second half motivated — and it manifested itself in the form of a pass from senior quarterback Landry Hodges that found the willing hands of sophomore Jacob Bohneman in the end zone.
Though 24 minutes too late, the score brought a charged Pioneers squad back in the game.
Hodges said his team has to start games like that, instead of moving the ball only when the game is already out of hand.
“We made some mental errors and we just couldn’t get it going at first,” Hodges said. “We have to come better out of the gate.”
Hodges and the Leavenworth offense put 14 points on the board during the second half, and their 17 points scored was the second-most points total scored on the Lancers this season.
Littrell said it took a bit of fine-tuning to the game plan to finally find the right frequency on which the offense could thrive.
“We were trying to throw early,” Littrell said. “We started being able to run our zone and run our counter the way we wanted to run it.”
Hodges led the Pioneers with 93 yards passing with a touchdown, as well as 41 rushing yards.
Senior running back Sanchez Williams found success in the second half, rushing his way to 43 yards and a touchdown.
As for the defensive side, Leavenworth found its way around the wishbone once the second half began.
The answer was simple — assignment football.
“It just took us playing assignments correct,” senior linebacker Anthony Hunt said. “We’re doing better, we’re taking steps forward. We’re progressing as the season goes, so that’s always a good time.”
The game against the Lancers marked the last Sunflower League game of the season for the Pioneers.
Though the Pioneers enter district play with a 2-4 record, Littrell said the poor record is a product of the difficult Sunflower League play.
“I think we got a good football team,” Littrell said. “You can look at the record and you can look at all that, but we’re in — I think — the toughest league in the state.”
Moving forward, Littrell said he expects his team to bounce back quickly as they prepare for a road match against Schlagle High School before returning home for the team’s last two games of the season against Washington and Lansing.
The most telling aspect of Friday night’s game heading into districts, Littrell said, was his team’s resilience, which should prove formidable as the Pioneers battle for a spot in the 5A state playoffs.
“A lot of teams could’ve given up,” Littrell said. “Our kids battled back, put 17 on the board. I’m proud of our kids and we’re just going to get back to work on Monday morning.”
AREA FOOTBALL SCORES
Lansing 7 Mill Valley 57 Pleasant Ridge 24 Oskaloosa 18 Immaculata 6 Jefferson County North 28 McLouth 6 Washington County 40 Tonganoxie 0 Bonner Springs 48 Basehor-Linwood 48 Bishop Ward 7