Junior Elijah Grey prepares to snap the ball during the Lions 31-24 win against Free State.
Junior Elijah Grey prepares to snap the ball during the Lion’s 31-24 win against Free State.
Maeslyn Hamlin

Lions hand Free State their first loss in electric City Showdown

Penalties and early deficits couldn’t stop the Lions on the road against cross-town rivals, winning 31-24

Late on Friday night, as the biting wind howled, the Free State football stadium glowed with warmth as the City Showdown came to a close. 

LHS hadn’t won the game since 2021, and everyone knew that Free State had the upper hand. 

“They were coming into that game 6-0 and everyone thought we were going to lose,” junior QB Banks Bowen said. 

He was right. LHS had dropped two games already this season, and their shot at securing a first-round playoff game at home was hanging in the balance. 

After a back-and-forth first half filled with penalties, Free State opened the second half by burning six minutes of clock in a grinding offensive raid. They marched down the field to score a touchdown and open a 17-7 lead. The Free State student section was ready to declare victory. 

But the Lions weren’t ready to give in.

“I’ve never once heard our players have anything but positive comments when our backs are against the wall,” coach Clint Bowen said. “They just keep coming out and believing and fighting and staying together.”

A penalty-assisted touchdown drive and a late 25-yard field goal by junior Andrei Lefort tied the game at 17 points apiece. 

“There were a lot of penalties, it really wasn’t a clean game,” Clint Bowen said. “Both teams didn’t handle the emotional focus as well as they needed to. Those things are realities for high school football players, and every year, that keeps this game pretty close.”

A fourth-quarter drive, capped off by a 38 yard touchdown pass by Free State QB Wesley Edison, nearly extinguished the Lion’s flame.  

With 1:17 left on the clock, Banks Bowen got the ball back and went to work. A few sideline routes provided some quick first downs. But the drive stalled on their own 40, and on 3rd down the intended receiver tripped en route. The Lions were in trouble.

“It was 4th and 10, and the read was to throw to the under route,” Bowen said. “I didn’t think it’d be a first down and it’d be our last play of the game.”

What happened next was almost magical. 

“He hit the scramble,” coach Bowen said. “We work the scramble drill all the time. When the play gets out of sequence, the wideouts have assigned places to go. Malcolm [Paul] did it perfectly, he went right down the sideline and Banks found him. That play had been practiced and rehearsed many times.” 

The 60 yard completion to senior Malcolm Paul had the LHS student section in disbelief. They weren’t the only ones. 

“To be honest, I didn’t think I was going to get the ball,” Paul said. “At first, Banks was rolling right and I was on the other side of the field. When he rolled back my way I was just hoping he saw me and he did.”

The City Showdown hit overtime for the second year in a row, and the second night in a row after the double-overtime finish in the soccer game on Thursday.

The LHS offense funneled their momentum to score a quick touchdown on the opening possession, and it was up to the Lion’s defense to end the game. 

The defense held strong for three downs. On fourth down, Edison finally got the ball to a receiver. But senior safety Zander Thomas ended the game with a tackle just short of the goal line. As the student section rushed the field, the scoreboard read 31-24, LHS. 

Despite his game saving reception, Paul’s favorite moment of the game was watching the defense end it. He said the game was key for the postseason to come.

“It puts us in a better spot than we were last week,” Paul said. “The win will help us get ready for those playoff games where every down matters and everything matters.”

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