It’s not that Heights felt like it was forgotten, just maybe a little overlooked.
Well, it will be hard to overlook the Falcons now.
Heights came away with a 55-27 victory over South on Friday to clinch a share of the City League championship in a three-way tie with Bishop Carroll and Northwest, and then clinched the No. 1 seed in the western half of the Class 5A playoffs after previously-unbeaten Great Bend fell on the road at Garden City in overtime.
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No. 1 Heights (7-1) will host Salina Central (0-8) in the first round of the playoffs, while South (4-4) fell to the No. 11 seed in Class 6A and will travel to No. 6 Lawrence Free State (6-2).
“I know teams know we play really good football, but you hear about all these other teams all the time and our kids are like, ‘Man, we’ve been playing good football here, too,’ ” Heights coach Terry Harrison said. “When you finally break through and win that City League title, it’s fun to see your kids enjoy it.”
It was the first time Heights has won or shared the league title since 2011.
“At the beginning of the season everybody doubted us,” said Heights running back Ontario Russell, who scored four touchdowns and had 181 total yards. “They came in thinking we were going to lose to the top teams, but we showed everybody that we’re a team to play with. We showed out tonight and got that City League title.”
It was a mistake-filled game, mostly by Heights in the beginning, which opened the door for South to grab an early lead.
The Titans did, scoring on a 4-yard touchdown pass from Evan Kruse to Jariah Taylor, but a 7-0 lead felt insufficient after Heights fumbled twice in the first quarter and turned the ball over on downs in its own territory another drive.
Instead, South failed to build on its lead and punish Heights for a slow start.
Once the mistakes stopped, Heights took over. The Falcons’ offense moved the ball with ease against the City League’s No. 1 defense, eventually piling up 480 rushing yards and 581 total. Combined with the 55 points, it was by far the most South’s defense had allowed all season.
“I was really proud of how our kids dealt with some adversity,” Harrison said. “After that tough loss last week at Carroll and then a slow start tonight, our kids didn’t get down on each other. They did an awesome job once they settled in and played like they were supposed to play.”
While the offensive stats for Heights — 164 rushing yards for Dejaun Scott, while K’Vonte Baker added 92 on the ground and 101 through the air — it was the Falcons’ defense that came through in the win.
South essentially became a one-dimensional offense because Heights’ defensive line, led by Dalen Williams, Braylen Edwards, Alton Guidry, Daqwan Moore, and Austin McCartney, was so disruptive that running the ball was not an option. Linebacker Javeon Johnson also led the team in tackles in the game.
The Titans finished with 27 rushing yards on 34 attempts.
“We always do a good job stopping the run,” McCartney said. “A lot of teams can’t run on us. We make it tough for teams to move the ball and then that gets them frustrated.”
That even includes Heights, which averages 409.5 rushing yards per game.
“They make our life miserable in practice, they really do,” Harrison said. “Believe me, they are so hard to run the ball against.”
Heights scored 22 straight points in the second quarter to take a 22-7 lead into halftime and never saw its lead drop to under 14 points in the second half.
Kruse did finish with 305 passing yards, while Taylor finished with another big game of eight catches for 157 yards and two touchdowns. AJ Hopper added six catches for 103 yards for South, as well.
After talking all summer about the possibility of making a push for a 5A title, the time has come for Heights to prove it.
“We tell our kids to just enjoy it now because this is why you put in all of the work that you do,” Harrison said. “It’s fun to see and it’s fun to be a part of games like tonight. Now we’ll move on and get ready for the playoffs.”
S—Taylor 4 pass from Kruse (Le kick)
H—Russell 58 run (Guidry pass from Edwards)
H—Russell 50 pass from Baker (Beardmore kick)
H—Russell 3 run (Beardmore kick)
H—Scott 29 run (Beardmore kick)
S—Taylor 79 pass from Kruse (Taylor pass from Kruse)
H—Kirkendoll 19 run (kick failed)
H—Hines 51 pass from Baker (Beardmore kick)
S—Hunt 4 run (pass failed)
H—Russell 55 run (Beadmore kick)
S—Hopper 42 pass from Kruse (run failed)
H—Williams 7 run (kick failed)
Rushing—South, Hunt 18-60, Parker 8-17, Kruse 7-(-18), Arehart 1-(-32); Heights, Scott 15-164, Russell 6-134, Baker 13-92, Williams 9-49, Kirkendoll 5-42, Bechtel 1-2, Hardyway 1-0.
Passing—South, Kruse 17-33-0-305; Heights, Baker 2-4-0-101, Scott 0-1-0-0.
Receiving—South, Taylor 8-157, Hopper 6-103, Roberson 1-19, Parker 1-17, Bell 1-9; Heights, Hines 1-51, Russell 1-50.