By Dan McGrath

With all that had befallen the Leo Lions during a four-game losing streak that capsized their season, there was a surreal feeling to the 20-6 halftime lead they took at Rich Township on Saturday, Oct. 23—surreal as in “This can’t be happening.”

Sure enough, senior running back James Saunders scored three of his four touchdowns in the second half, and the momentum shift was visible for all to see when Saunders’ 5-yard TD run and quarterback Cory Stennis’ madcap conversion dash pulled the Raptors even at 28-all with 3:32 remaining.

Out of timeouts, the dispirited Lions had to start their final possession at their 16-yard line after mishandling Rich Township’s kickoff. 

But junior quarterback Matthew Harvey moved them to the Raptors’ 34 with passes to Kevin Jackson (22 yards), Rayion Davidson (9 yards) and Merrick Sample (11 yards). Three straight incompletions stalled the drive, and with one play remaining, Harvey floated one up toward Davidson, who outfought defender Javion Fox for the ball at the 10-yard line, then muscled through two tacklers near the goal line for the touchdown that gave Leo (3-6) a 34-28 victory in a nonconference but highly satisfying regular-season finale.

The Lions’ uninhibited end-zone celebration suggested they had achieved something meaningful … because they had.

“It’s been a rough few weeks with the injuries and all,” Coach Mike Holmes acknowledged, “but we never stopped fighting, never stopped competing. And when you keep fighting, good things happen. I’m proud of the guys.” 

Rich Township’s Homecoming crowd was large and festive as the Raptors returned to the field after a COVID-induced three-week layoff. The officiating crew looked as if it had been away for a while as well: the Lions were limited to three downs on one possession, the Raptors were given five downs on another, the play clock seemed to be operating by whim rather than rule, and being out of timeouts for the final series was news to Leo.

Still …

Harvey stood out in his first extended playing time as a replacement for injured QB James E’Akels. Sharing the duty with senior Chris Lindo, the strong-armed junior averaged 23.6 yards on his seven completions (in 12 attempts), with TD passes of 26 yards to Sample and 37 yards to Jackson, in addition to his game-winning heave to Rayion Davidson.

Jackson also connected with Austin Ford for a 22-yard TD on a nifty double-reverse pass. Junior Rayshaun Davidson got the Lions their first touchdown with a 48-yard run during a 20-point second quarter.  

Lindo completed just two of eight passes for 37 yards, but what he really did was play football: He ran for 38 yards on nine carries, blocked like a demon, took some turns in the secondary and returned punts and kickoffs.

Only once this season, in the opener against Chicago Bulls Prep, did the Lions score more points or amass more yardage, but the defense had its moments as well, most notably on a goal-line stand after the hosts blocked a punt and took over at Leo 1-yard line late in the first quarter. Linebacker Isaiah Knox nailed Stennis for 2- and 7-yard losses on successive plays as Leo kept the Raptors out of the end zone. 

The Lions’ season is expected to continue into Prep Bowl playoffs, with pairings to be announced this week. At last they have something to build on. 

Watch the winning TD here: