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La Crosse punches its ticket back to state

By AUSTIN COLBERT

acolbert@dailynews.net

LA CROSSE -- There weren't many believers when the La Crosse High School football team played at Oakley last week in the second round of the Class 2-1A state playoffs, a 12-7 win for the Leopards.

Heading into Saturday's sub-state game against defending state champion Meade High School, La Crosse didn't feel it had gained many more. The general feeling was Meade, with its unique single-wing offense, would be too much for the overachieving Leopards.

And for much of the first half, this looked the case. But then came the second half, and La Crosse decided it wanted to make a statement to the rest of the state.

"It's a funny thing because it's something that eats at you, but at the same time we are not going to wake up, read our obituary and believe it," La Crosse coach Jon Webster said. "We've been talking about this since the last time we were at state. Our kids made a decision in the second half to play really good football and play Leopard football and not just go through the motions like we did in the first half."

The end result was a 38-24 win for La Crosse (12-0), a win that sends the Leopards into next Saturday's Class 2-1A state title game against Centralia (12-0) at Lewis Field Stadium in Hays.

It will be La Crosse's second trip to the state title game, the other one coming in 2011. The Leopards lost 20-14 in overtime to Centralia that year.

But thanks to a big second half by the Leopards on Saturday, La Crosse will get another shot. Trailing 18-6 late in the first half against Meade, La Crosse went 60 yards in three plays and scored with 36 seconds remaining in the half on a 26-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jack Garcia to Andrew Jay.

The Leopards opened the second half by marching right down the field on its first possession, ending it with a 1-yard TD run by Garcia to tie the game at 18.

"We got into each other in the locker room," Garcia said. "But we got into each other the way brothers do. We just came together that second half and told each other this isn't going to happen anymore. Enough is enough. We are going to come out and play Leopard football the second half."

La Crosse took its first lead when Garcia found receiver Taylor Yohe on a 7-yard TD pass late in the third quarter, giving the Leopards a 24-18 lead heading to the fourth quarter.

The Leopards tacked on two more touchdowns, the first a 1-yard TD run by Garcia in which he fumbled the snap, picked it up, and ran it in for the score. The second score came with about three minutes remaining, an 88-yard TD pass from Garcia to Yohe on third down to make it 38-18.

Meade scored on its final possession but it was too little, too late.

"It's even better because everyone is doubting us and everything," Yohe said about the win. "Meade has ended my season twice in the last four years, and it's finally nice to get a good win against them."

Garcia was 7 of 10 passing for 207 yards with four touchdowns. Yohe had 146 of those yards with two touchdowns. Marshall Jay led the Leopards in rushing with 93 yards on 20 carries.

Morgan Olvera led Meade with 152 yards on 31 carries.