Always works hard.
Good on the junior varsity, that’s for sure.
They have talked about Heights senior safety D’Aunte McPhaul this way for a long time.
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After Friday night’s 10-7 win over Salina Central in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs, that take changes a bit.
“What a stud,” Heights coach Terry Harrison said. “Since we put him on the field, we haven’t taken him off.”
It’s well-earned praise after McPhaul, who didn’t start the first four games of this season, let alone any other in his time at Heights. And it’s because he intercepted Salina Central quarterback Malcolm Gardner on the Mustangs’ final two drives, both times in Heights territory.
The second interception came with 20 seconds left at the Heights’ 10-yard line, after Salina Central marched down the field, looking for the tie or the win.
“I just stay focused, stay on my reads and keep locked in all game,” McPhaul said. “When I wasn’t playing, I never let myself get frustrated. I always kept working.”
Heights (8-2) advances to play at No. 1 Bishop Carroll (10-0) next Friday. Carroll beat the Falcons 70-15 on Sept. 27 at Carroll.
“We’ve got to throw everything we’ve got at them,” Harrison said.
Heights looked like it might be able to control Friday’s playoff opener against Salina Central (6-4), taking its opening drive 89 yards and capping it with a 1-yard touchdown run by Trenton Autry for a 7-0 lead with 6:05 left in the first quarter.
“That early score ended up being so important because it turned into kind of a knock-down, drag-out kind of game,” said Heights running back Rodney Murphy. “Our defense was what did it for us tonight. They stepped up every time they had to.”
Heights added another score, this time on a 26-yard field goal by Luis Rodriguez for a 10-0 lead with 5:25 left in the second quarter.
Salina Central capitalized on its one solid drive in the first half with a 3-yard touchdown run by Dalton Peters with 1:57 left in the second quarter.
Peters led Salina Central with 106 yards on 26 carries. Neither team completed a pass in the first half.
“That’s when you’ve got to really lock in as a defensive back,” McPhaul said. “Can’t ever slack, can’t ever stop being focused.”
Heights blew two scoring opportunities in the second half — the first on the first drive of the third quarter, when Salina Central stopped Heights three straight times from the Mustangs’ 3-yard line, forcing Tre King out of bounds at the 1-yard line on fourth-and-goal.
The second missed opportunity came with Heights driving to Salina Central’s 30-yard line with just over nine minutes remaining. The Falcons were called for a personal foul on King after he hit a Salina Central player out of bounds, after a play was over, pushing Heights out of field-goal range.
“Penalties killed us all night,” Harrison said. “It’s tough to figure out. They do good ... then they fall apart.”
Salina Central got two more chances. The first ended in McPhaul’s first pick, an acrobatic, leaping backwards, fully-extended grab that saved a touchdown. The second was the game-winner.
“There was an injury that let him get that chance, and he grabbed it,” Harrison said. “Now look at him. Never once did he complain about playing time, never once did he ever get down on himself when he wasn’t on the field.”
McPhaul was mobbed by his teammates after the win, disappearing into a sea of gray and black uniforms in the postgame huddle, a smile plastered ear-to-ear.
“It feels really good to come out with the win,” McPhaul said. “That was a battle.”
H—Autry 1 run (Rodriguez kick)
H—Rodriguez 26 FG
SC—Peters 3 run (Hoffman kick)
Rushing – Salina Central, Peters 26-106, Wenzel 7-30, Gardner 4-1, McMullen 3-9. Heights, Murphy 13-102, Autry 14-58, King 14-62, McCray 7-38.
Passing – Salina Central, Gardner 4-12-47-2. Heights, Autry 0-8-0-0.
Receiving – Salina Central, Wenzel 1-7, Peters 1-4, Bigler 2-36.