East Lawrence got a rude awakening Friday night from its dream season as the Eagles fell to Saks, 22-15, in the first round of the state playoffs.
The game was East Lawrence’s first playoff game since 2008, and their first time hosting since 1997. The loss brings their season to an end at 9-2, which is the school’s first winning season in 23 years.
“This hurts. It stings,” said East Lawrence head coach Bo Culver. “We lose a lot of great seniors that were 0-10 as a freshman that came back and turned this thing around.”
East Lawrence turned the ball over five times, three fumbles and two interceptions, most of which proved to be backbreakers.
“This is playoff football, and you can’t turn the ball over five times and expect to win,” Culver said. “At the same time, we had our chances that we just didn’t make.”
Despite the turnovers, the game was a one-possession contest.
“We had five turnovers, but this was still a one possession game with as bad as we played,” he said. “I hope everybody takes away from this game that we were a really good football team and these guys fought their guts out. I hope that’s what people will remember.”
Saks got on the board first with a short touchdown run, but it didn’t take long for the Eagles to answer. Cayden Rivers scored on a 13-yard run that made it 8-8 at the end of the first quarter.
Then the turnovers started to mount. The Wildcats capitalized on three first-half turnovers to build a 22-15 lead at halftime.
In the second half, East Lawrence came out firing. Nate Tucker scored on a 55-yard touchdown run, and the defense allowed no points, which included a goal line stand at the 1-yard line.
Then East Lawrence fumbled on the first play of a drive that started with under two minutes left. They managed got the ball back, but a fifth and final turnover sealed the loss.
“The turnovers were very uncharacteristic of us, and honestly a lot of it was just dumb luck,” Culver said. “We had one play where Levi (Barnes) is going out of bounds and his elbow knocks the ball out. Another play we ran the play the wrong way.
“Sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce your way. Sometimes it isn’t your night, and tonight wasn’t our night.”
But Culver hopes to build on this season.
“This is going to be what we make it,” Culver said. “We lose a lot of talented seniors, but we return some great kids like Cayden Rivers, Dawson Terry and Payton Kelly. I mean, we had to play some young guys tonight because we were missing four starters, so the future is bright.”