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Top stories 2013 -- Another runner-up season for Leopards

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

The La Crosse High School faithful likely will remember the Leopards' final offensive play of its second round playoff game against Oakley for years.

Down 7-6, the Leopards faced fourth and goal from Oakley's 5-yard line with 22 seconds remaining. After a series of timeouts, La Crosse assistant coach Andrew Schroter, in the press box booth, said the Leopards should have a cluster of wide receivers and run a bootleg. Junior quarterback Jack Garcia lofted a pass to senior tight end Marshall Jay for the touchdown.

Garcia called the play a "tendency breaker" to keep Oakley "off guard." The Leopards thought with Oakley's pursuit, Jay could get open.

"We probably had the best coverage we could put on them in the end zone," Oakley coach Randall Rath said in his final game as Plainsmen coach.

On the game's final play, senior Taylor Yohe knocked down a pass in the end zone -- after Oakley ran a successful hook-and-ladder. La Crosse won 12-7 and, followed by a sub-state victory against Meade, eventually made a surprising run to the Class 2-1A state championship game.

"My assistant coaches did a heck of a job," coach Jon Webster said. "It was a total team effort and that's what makes me so proud of this win."

The Leopards lost 61-0 to Centralia in the final, the worst state championship margin in Kansas history, but La Crosse still completed a memorable year.

La Crosse went 12-1, ran its regular season winning streak to 36 games and had huge seasons from several players. As well, the Leopards improved from last season's 11-1 record that had all-state running backs Kip Keeley and Levi Morss. Garcia, Jay and senior lineman Cody Lee earned Hays Daily News Super 11 honors and Webster, in his fifth year as head coach, collected the HDN Coach of the Year award.

La Crosse's season is one of the Top Stories for 2013.

"He is a players' coach," Garcia said. " We love to play for him, and he knows what it takes to win."

La Crosse started three freshmen and tied 2011 for the best season in school annals. That year, the Leopards lost 20-14 to Centralia in overtime in the state championship.

The Leopards were expected to be a strong squad again when fall started, but had different personnel. The Leopards adopted the motto of "No Looking Back."

"Early on, they were like, this was hard, by the end of the summer, it was easy," Webster said. "I think that showed 'Hey, we've just got to work a little bit harder, and we have got to play with a little more intensity than what we have because we don't have the physical, natural ability that we have had in the past.'"

Lee, who had one tackle for loss entering the season, led the Leopards with 23 TFLs. Statistically, no defender had a bigger jump in the state this season. He and teammate Kody Burns helped La Crosse's defense after end Sheldon Schmidt went down with a season-ending knee injury in Week 4.

"I worked all four years of my high school career as hard as I could," Lee said. "My size and everything, it gave me kind of an advantage on some people. I was kind of surprised, but I was very confident in what I could do."

Junior Andrew Jay had 130 all-purpose yards in 2012 and finished with 1,986 this season.

"I think that's how we are able to overachieve," Webster said. "I heard a lot of coaches tell me, 'You guys really overachieved this year, and I think it is we really care so much about each other that we weren't willing to break when things got tough."

This fall, he completed 92 of 173 passes for 2,077 yards with 31 scores against 11 INTs. He also rushed 130 times for 669 yards and 11 scores. Garcia was one of five Kansas juniors to exceed 2,000 passing yards this season, according to maxpreps.com.

"He really developed into the kid we thought he could be all along," Webster said.