Presented with the near-certainty that the Class 5A football playoffs won’t be so easy from now on, Heights quarterback K’Vonte Baker tilted his head and squinted his eyes with skepticism.
“Maybe not,” Baker said.
The law of averages may suggest a more difficult quarterfinal game, but so far the evidence is on Baker’s side. Heights defeated Emporia 42-7 Friday night in the second round and has outscored its two postseason opponents 97-7.
Baker had 199 rushing yards and tailback Ontario Russell rushed for 164 yards and three touchdowns on seven carries as Heights outscored Emporia 28-0 in the second half.
Heights coach Terry Harrison is more realistic, or at least more diplomatic, about the toils of the postseason as the Falcons look toward next week’s quarterfinal game against top-ranked Goddard.
“It’s playoff football,” Harrison said. “You see kids whose season just ended, they’re hugging their coach – there’s so much at stake. There’s no team that doesn’t play hard.”
Eight plays into Friday’s game, Heights had a 14-0 lead. Russell rushed for a 66-yard touchdown on Heights’ first play and, after an Emporia fumble, Baker scored from 23 yards.
Russell’s immediate productivity could have suggested a heavy workload, but Heights is stacked with ballcarriers and Russell must wait his turn behind Baker – and sometimes behind power back Dejuan Scott.
But Russell often makes the most of his chances. On Friday he had touchdowns of 66, 53 and 29 yards and scored on nearly half of his carries.
“When I get the ball, I just do what I’ve got to do,” Russell said. “Like Coach always says, if you can only get the ball two or three times, if that’s going to help the team then that’s what you’ve got to do. As long as we keep winning, I’m perfectly fine. I just do what I’ve got to do when I do touch the ball.”
Baker had multiple highlight-reel runs, keeping plays alive after he appears stopped for a significant loss. His 14-yard touchdown run in the third quarter featured several changes of direction, and more yards toward the sideline than toward the end zone.
Emporia couldn’t match that creativity, but the Spartans created some first-half obstacles for Heights’ defense. They turned to an option running attack in the second quarter and turned loose little-used Tommy Secord, who finished with 103 yards.
“We were just getting ourselves out of position,” Harrison said. “We actually missed a lot of tackles.”
Heights’ aggressiveness on defense can lead to mistimed tackles or overplaying, but it’s most often useful. The Falcons recovered three Emporia fumbles and had an interception, and two of the turnovers happened in Heights territory.
The adjustment to Emporia’s option showed up after halftime, and Heights pulled away with several big runs. Baker and Russell combined for nine runs of at least 10 yards, matching the energy of the Falcons’ defense.
“We feed off the defense, too, and the defense feeds off of us,” Baker said. “If we do something good, if we score, they’re going to try to do something better every single time. Same for us – if they get a big stop, we’ve got to do something big. We’ve got to score a touchdown.”
H—Russell 66 run (Urbina kick)
H—Baker 23 run (Urbina kick)
E—Secord 3 run (Dobbins kick)
H—Russell 53 run (Urbina kick)
H—Baker 14 run (Urbina kick)
H—Russell 29 run (Urbina kick)
H—Baker 46 run (Urbina kick)
Rushing—Emporia, Secord 15-103, Stewart 7-51, Delgado 11-30; Heights, Baker 15-199, Russell 7-164, Scott 10-34, Williams 3-22, Edwards 3-18, Jay 4-13, Kirkendoll 1-7, Hubbard 1-5.
Passing—Emporia, Stewart 4-9-42-1; Heights, Baker 2-2-63-0, Edwards 1-1-23-0, Russell 0-1-0-0.
Receiving—Emporia, Crouch 2-26, Good 2-16; Heights; Hines 1-57, Williams 1-23, Scott 1-6.