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Bob Lutz: Wichita Heights running game keeps going and going

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, Nov. 10, 2011, at 4:17 p.m.
  • Updated Friday, Nov. 11, 2011, at 7:46 a.m.

I wonder how many times during their high school football careers that the guys who play on the Heights offensive line have had their names in the paper?

Well, it's time.

Left tackle, Ricardo Gonzalez. Left guard, Brandon Wharton. Center, Grant Watkins. Right guard, Alex Knowles. Right tackle, Steven Walker. Tight end (when Heights has one), Gabe Lynch.

Why mention them now?

Simple. They have blocked for a Heights running attack that has produced, in 10 games, 4,046 yards.

Three Falcon backs — Marquel Moore (1,057), quarterback Matt Reed (1,031) and Kenneth Iheme (1,020) —have topped 1,000 yards.

Unbelievable, you say?

Well, it's the second year in a row the Falcons have accomplished such a feat, although in 2010 it took 12 games for the last guy to get over 1,000.

Heights started the season with a 512-yard rushing game against Bishop Carroll and the Falcons have continued to plow through defenses, averaging 8.8 yards per carry.

"It just means there are a lot of people doing their stuff right,'' said Heights coach Rick Wheeler, who schools his offensive players on the flexbone offense so relentlessly that they probably dream about it.

It's an offense — a variation of the wishbone — that stresses execution and deception. And to run it the way Heights runs its, attention to minute detail is required.

"We go over everything a million times a day until we get it right,'' said Reed, who is trying to win his second 6A championship as quarterback.

Heights has rushed for at least 306 yards in every game except one — against Derby. In that one, the Falcons needed a passing game to overcome a two-touchdown disadvantage in the third quarter and win 49-35, moving them into tonight's quarterfinal at home against Garden City.

The Falcons have passed for 650 yards and 188 of them came in the Derby game.

There was a time when Wheeler's teams at Heights did little except throw the football. That was in the days of quarterback Cameron Kasel and receivers Daley Gunter and Vince Santucci. During the 2005-06 seasons, Kasel threw 569 passes.

"We were a spread offense team, which is so popular now,'' Wheeler said. "We threw it all over the field, but I really felt like it hurt our defense because they were on the field so much. And it made games really, really long.''

After losing to Hutchinson in the 6A quarterfinals in 2006, Heights' second playoff loss to the Salthawks in three seasons, Wheeler decided to change his offense.

He saw how effective Hutchinson was running the football with its own wishbone variation and how difficult it was to stop, and decided that was the thing to do at Heights.

"As we got into it,'' Wheeler said, "we immediately started having success.''

Heights lost in the 6A championship game in 2009 and won in a blowout last season. The Falcons are riding a 23-game winning streak thanks to what has for two seasons now been an unstoppable running game.

"We attribute it to our line,'' Iheme said. "And we also block well for each other. There's a lot of things we can do with our offense so we like to keep defenses guessing.''

Wheeler said what he most appreciates from his backs is their unselfishness. When they're not running the football, they're expected to block. And because of the deception, often the guys without the ball get tackled the hardest.

"That wears on a guy after a while,'' Wheeler said.

Ultimately, though, it gets back to the linemen. Those guys in the trenches who block and block and block but never get their names in the paper.

"They know we appreciate them,'' Iheme said. "We tell then every day in practice and after every game. After we score a touchdown, we show them the love. We jump up and down with them after we score. We tap them on the butt.''

Check sports columnist Bob Lutz's blog at blogs.kansas.com/lutz. Reach him at 316-268-6597 or blutz@wichitaeagle.com.

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