For the first half Friday night, the Class 6A No. 5 Cathedral Irish looked nothing like their usual selves. Meanwhile, Lawrence Central appeared poised to be the team that finally derailed the winners of five consecutive state championships.
But in the second half, Cathedral resembled every bit a state title contender, as it overcame a 16-14 halftime deficit and rolled to a 43-22 victory in its first playoff game in 6A.
Irish (7-3) running back Markese Stepp entered Friday night averaging 111 yards per game. He blew that mark away, rushing for a season-high 277 yards and four touchdowns.
Stepp, seeing how slow his team had started in the first half, knew they needed a spark: He took the first play of the second half 69 yards for a touchdown.
“We just had to step up and play,” Stepp said. “Our offense came out; the (offensive) line blocked; and we said we were going to run it down their throat. Coach (Rick) Streiff said we had to come out and play, otherwise our dream was going to be gone.”
Cathedral’s defense, which conceded a trio of field goals and a 99-yard kickoff return by Dominque Tyler for a touchdown in the first half, did not allow a single first down in the second half until late in the fourth quarter.
The second half struggles were nothing new for the Bears.
“If you look at our season, we play great in the first half while the third quarter and second half has been our Achilles heel all year,” Lawrence Central coach Jed Richman said. “(Stepp) is a hard-nosed runner. Once he gets his shoulders parallel, he’s hard to stop. We tried to get him going sideways, but once he gets going forward he’s a tough runner.”
Cathedral quarterback Max Bortenschlager iced the game for the Irish with a pair of rushing touchdowns early in the fourth.
Cathedral afforded the Bears (3-7) multiple opportunities on offense in the first half by extending drives with penalties. The Irish committed 13 infractions Friday night, costing them 124 yards.
“It gets down to us being able to be disciplined,” Streiff said. “We weren’t very disciplined in either half.”
The Irish will host Lawrence North (3-7) at 7 p.m. next week. The Wildcats defeated North Central 42-7 in other Sectional 6 action.
“We’ve seen them on film, so we know what we’re getting into, and we’ll have to come in tomorrow and make some plans,” Streiff said.
Stepp said the Irish will not be taking any opponents lightly.
“Lawrence North is a good team,” he said. “They play hard, and I wouldn’t underestimate them one bit just because of their record. We’ve got a tough game on our hands. We’ve got to prepare like we do each week and see what happens.”
CATHEDRAL 43, LAWRENCE CENTRAL 22
Cathedral 7 7 15 14 — 43
Lawrence Cent. 10 6 0 6 — 22
LC — Nash Griffin 38 FG
Cathedral — Markese Stepp 80 run (Vincent Alerding kick)
LC — Dominique Tyler 99 kickoff return (Griffin kick)
LC — Griffin 48 FG
Cathedral — Stepp 67 run (Alerding kick)
LC — Griffin 27 FG
Cathedral — Stepp 69 run (Alerding kick)
Cathedral — Stepp 3 run (Max Bortenschlager run)
Cathedral — Bortenschlager 1 run (Alerding kick)
Cathedral — Bortenschlager 5 run (Alerding kick)
LC — Gerrid Doaks 4 run (Run failed)
Rushing — Lawrence Central: Gerrid Doaks 18-87, Thomas Lee 2-4, Dominique Tyler 1-2, Dre Randolph 12-2. Cathedral: Markese Stepp 21-277, Evan Christopher 12-43, Max Bortenschlager 7-25, Tony Johnson 4-8
Passing — Lawrence Central: Randolph 4-20-0 42. Cathedral: Bortenschlager 7-14-0 61.
Receiving — Lawrence Central: Daveon Bell 2-23, Bryan Rutland 2-19. Cathedral: Daijon Collins 4-34, Stepp 2-23, Johnson 1-4.