When the punt came flying through the air toward Heights junior Daniel Deshazer on Friday night at Northwest, he hesitated, thinking his teammate would return the kick.
When he saw his teammate wasn’t, he sprinted toward the ball, which bounced on the Southeast 46. Even though a defender was about five yards away, Deshazer caught the ball on the bounce, racing up the right sideline for the touchdown.
It was the deciding score in Heights’ 28-21 victory over Southeast in Class 6A-District 6, and one of many big plays for the Falcons.
Heights has clinched a playoff berth and will play for the district title next Friday at Derby. Southeast is 0-2 in districts.
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“I seen the defender as soon as I got it,” Deshazer said, “but I said, ‘if I catch it full speed, he won’t be able to tackle me straight up. I’ll probably break a tackle.’ Then I followed my blockers and took it to the side.”
Deshazer also had a 60-yard punt return on Southeast’s first possession, which he took to the Buffaloes’ 11. Three plays later, Dreamius Smith scored on a two-yard run for the 6-0 lead.
“Dapper is fearless,” Heights coach Rick Wheeler said of Deshazer. “.æ.æ. We practice catching the ball in the air, on one bounce, that’s our rule. We believe, with (artificial) turf fields, catching punts saves you 15-20 yards every possession.”
Heights’ early lead didn’t last long. One play after a Heights defensive holding penalty extended a Southeast drive, Southeast senior Joseph Randle raced 30 yards for a touchdown and the 7-6 lead with 3:38 remaining in the first period.
In the final two seconds of the quarter, Randle scored again, six plays after Heights fumbled, for the 13-6 lead.
Randle finished with 169 rushing yards on 29 carries and an interception.
Heights answered with sophomore quarterback Matt Reed, who got his first start. He replaced John Moreland, who is out with a shoulder injury.
Delmonte Ross had a 35-yard run, then Reed ran 29 yards to the Southeast 4, scoring two plays later. After the two-point conversion, Heights had the 14-13 lead.
Reed finished with two touchdowns and 145 rushing yards on 17 carries.
“He did a great job,” Wheeler said. “Matt’s a great young athlete.”
The teams traded turnovers the rest of the half — Southeast had two second-quarter interceptions and a fumble, while Heights had an interception and a fumble.
After both teams opened the second half with touchdowns, they traded interceptions. Heights junior Evan Wessel had two interceptions in the game.
Southeast had a chance for the tie in the final seconds, getting to the Heights 43. Jeremiah Plowden’s final attempt fell incomplete.
“We had some chances, we just didn’tæ.æ.æ. too many mistakes, too many penalties, too many turnovers,” Southeast coach Gary Guzman said. “We just didn’t execute the way we needed.”
Heights (2-0, 4-4) 6 8 7 7 — 28
Southeast (0-2, 3-5) 13 0 8 0 — 21
H—Smith 2 run (run failed)
SE—Randle 30 run (Rhodes kick)
SE—Randle 3 run (pass failed)
H—Reed 5 run (Smith run)
H—Reed 3 run (Farley kick)
SE—Taylor 7 pass from Plowden (Randle run)
H—Deshazer 46 punt return (Farley kick)
Rushing—Heights, Reed 17-145, Ross 6-59, Smith 12-39, Deshazer 6-39, Randolph 5-10. Southeast, Randle 29-169, Plowden 9-23, Metcalfe 2-7.
Passing—Heights, Reed 0-2-0-2. Southeast, Plowden 10-20-116-3, Randle 1-2-10-0, Parks 0-1-0-0.
Receiving—Southeast, Taylor 6-61, Randle 1-28, Le 1-11, Hayes 1-11, Plowden 1-10, Utsey 1-5.