EXCELSIOR SPRINGS, Mo. — Down by a touchdown with almost one minute remaining in the Class 4 District 8 quarterfinals, Lafayette coach Eric McDowell chose to make one final push.
The result turned to an onside kick. At first it appeared the Fighting Irish had recovered. After emptying a pile of athletes, the refs ruled it to be Excelsior Springs’ ball with less than a minute remaining.
Interrupted by three Lafayette timeouts, the Tigers ran the clock to the final buzzer, earning a 28-24 win.
“It was exceptional,” Lafayette coach Eric McDowell said. “The toughness, mental toughness and character that the boys showed. Like I’ve said all season, when we play good we’re pretty darn good. When we don’t, we can be interesting.”
No. 4-seeded Excelsior Springs (8-3) pushed the ball against No. 5 Lafayette (5-5), and put the ball into the air just once. The pass fell incomplete, giving all 425 of its yards to the ground.
Tigers seniors Caleb Mayfield and Brandon Gluhm each crossed 100 yards each. Gluhm finished with 156.
The duo raised havoc for Lafayette in the first half, and accounted for Excelsior Springs’ three touchdowns before halftime.
The Irish could not develop a complete offense at the same time, finding themselves trailing 21-0.
“One of the things that makes it so hard to play against that kind of a team is you just can’t simulate it in practice,” McDowell said. “It takes a drive or two to get adjusted to it in game. That’s what you saw. Once our boys settled down, it was a lot of defense.”
Things changed in the second half when Lafayette found ways to capitalize through defensive and special teams momentum.
A special teams fumble recovery on an Excelsior Springs kickoff return turned into a 35-yard touchdown pass from senior Daeton McGaughy to Derrick May.
Lafayette senior Corey Wallace sacked Mayfield for a turnover on downs on Excelsior Springs’ next drive. That eventually turned into a touchdown pass to senior Gabe Cannon, bringing the score to 21-16 with 6:07 remaining after a two-point conversion.
“We didn’t really make any adjustments,” McDowell said. “We played some defense that we did in the first half. We just played it better. Unfortunately it was a little too late.”
Following another Excelsior Springs touchdown, the Irish gave themselves one final shot. Lafayette put out a drive that ended with the second touchdown connection from McGaughy to Cannon.
The pass turned out to be McGaughy’s final at Lafayette due to the failed onside kick. He is one of the Irish’s 14 seniors.
The loss marked the second straight year the Tigers ended Lafayette’s season. It also marked a conclusion to the Irish’s second journey under McDowell. Lafayette is 12-8 during that time.
“In my time as a head coach, the buy in and the foundation we’re setting is one that sometimes that takes a few years to get solidified. Our senior class was a part of that,” McDowell said. “Hopefully the success we have in the future is an attribution to these athletes.”