Landen Willis thought he had ended the first half with an electrifying 100-yard pick-six for Lee’s Summit and, if not for a referee blowing his whistle too soon, that would have been the case.
He didn’t have to wait long for another chance.
Willis found the end zone on another interception in the fourth quarter, his third pick of the game, and it cemented the Tigers’ 21-7 victory against Raymore-Peculiar in a Suburban Gold Conference game Oct. 6 at Bud Hertzog Stadium.
Willis, a sophomore running back/defensive back, snagged a pass by Raymore-Peculiar quarterback Noah Durham in the closing seconds of the second quarter in the back of the end zone and sprinted untouched down the right sideline. But before Willis crossed the goal line, an official inadvertently blew his whistle, which made play dead.
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“I just kept running to see if they would call it back,” Willis said. “It didn’t matter.”
It could have mattered at the time, because Lee’s Summit (3-5, 1-4 Suburban Gold) was clinging to a 7-0 lead and Ray-Pec (2-6, 0-5 Suburban Gold) had been driving the ball.
Instead, the score remained 7-0 until early in the fourth quarter, when Somaj Brewer sprinted 47 yards for his second touchdown of the game.
On the first play after the ensuing kickoff, Willis stepped in front of a Durham pass and ran it back 20 yards for another pick-six — one that counted, this time —and a 21-0 Tigers lead.
“That was the defensive line,” Willis said. “They got the quarterback in a hurry and he just threw it fast.”
Willis credited all three of his interceptions, including his first one shortly after Lee’s Summit scored its first touchdown during the second quarter, with just being in the right place at the right time.
But in Lee’s Summit coach Eric Thomas’ estimation, Willis was being a little too modest.
“Landon’s a special player, a special athlete,” Thomas said. “He’s really good, but he’s going to be even better. He just knows how to make plays and go get the ball.”
Willis was also one of seven ballcarriers for Lee’s Summit, which threw only three passes during the whole game.
With sophomore quarterback Darrias Pearsall sidelined for the second straight contest, the Tigers relied again on converted running back Preston Whitworth to run the offense.
Whitworth finished with 102 rushing yards on 17 carries, while Brewer had 77 yards on five carries.
“We got our feet back underneath us a little bit this week,” Thomas said. “We found some things we could execute and really homed in on them this week.”
Ray-Pec moved the ball too, with Durham completing 19 of 34 passes for 196 yards with a touchdown, but the Panthers also committed four turnovers and saw three drives deep into Lee’s Summit territory come up empty.
Willis’ non-pick-six ended a 13-play, 82-yard drive, which had started after Whitworth lost a fumble at the Ray-Pec 14-yard line.
Still trailing only 7-0 late in the third quarter, the Panthers marched to the Lee’s Summit 15-yard line only to have Tigers’ linebacker Omanun Muhammad end the drive with a fourth-down sack of Durham.
Another drive ended on downs at the Tigers’ 10.
“That’s where we’ve been all season,” Ray-Pec coach Tom Kruse said. “We get a drive going, we move the football down, and then we can’t overcome a mistake. That’s the frustrating part.”
Ray-Pec finally got on the board on a 14-yard TD pass from Durham to Je’Von Williams with 2:12 left in the game.
With the win, Lee’s Summit snapped a two-game losing streak and improved its position in the Class 6, District 4 standings with just one game remaining before the playoff bracket is set.
“This was big for a couple of reasons,” Thomas said. “First, it may be our seniors’ last home game, and we’re neck and neck with Ray-Pec in the seedings so that helps us there.”
The game also was the third annual Siege the Cure Cancer Awareness Game between the two schools. Siege Sports provided pink-accented uniforms to both teams for the game. Proceeds from this year’s event went to the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.