Heights defensive lineman Justin Reynolds saw all he needed to see — one of the Derby offensive linemen leaning to his right.
Keying on that, Reynolds broke through and made the game-saving tackle on the last play of the game, sealing the Falcons’ 21-16 win.
Heights advances to the Class 6A title game for the first time, meeting unbeaten Olathe North on Nov. 28 in Topeka. It’s the first City League team to reach the 6A final since West in 1997 — no CL team has won 6A since 1983.
After starting its final drive on its own 21-yard line, Derby faced fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard-line with 13 seconds remaining. After seeing the offensive lineman leaning and realizing that Derby had rushed up the middle twice on the drive — both times for first downs — he keyed on running back Evan Oaks and met him behind the line of scrimmage, tackling him for a loss.
“I knew it was going to him or either (Jameson Moore),” Reynolds said. “But when I saw (Moore) go wide, I knew (Oaks) was going to get the ball. I just made my move and did my best to get him down.”
Derby had no timeouts left at the end of its final drive.
“We were prepared, but we just couldn’t get it in,” Derby senior Devin Hedgepeth said. “We practice that situation, things just didn’t work out for us.”
Early on, it didn’t look like Derby would even be in a situation to win the game. Heights (8-4) had a 21-9 halftime lead thanks to a Derby fumble and a couple of big runs by Dreamius Smith. Smith broke a touchdown run of 81 yards and finished with 242 yards on 16 carries.
Heights quarterback Matt Reed rushed for 89 yards on 13 carries and one touchdown.
“John McClure told me before the game to just get behind him and Justin Flemming and the seniors would lead the way,” Smith said. “I did and they opened some holes for me.”
While Derby’s offense struggled in the first half, it picked things up in the second half. The Panthers (8-4) pulled within five points on an Oaks 9-yard run that capped off a four-play drive with 9:01 remaining. The Panthers defense then forced Heights to turn the ball over on downs when the Falcons failed to convert a fourth-and-5 from the Derby 21.
“We hung our defense out to dry by not scoring when we got in the red zone, but we expected them to step up,” Heights coach Rick Wheeler said. “It’s been a long journey to get to this moment. It’s taken a lot of players to get us here and tonight it took a total team effort.”
Derby (8-4) 6 3 0 7 — 16
Heights (8-4) 14 7 0 0 — 21
H—Washington 20 fumble return (Farley kick)
D—Moore 35 run (kick failed)
H—Smith 81 run (Farley kick)
D—Young 22 FG
H—Reed 1 run (Farley kick)
D—Oaks 9 run (Young kick)
Rushing—Derby, Moore 24-159, Oaks 14-65, Harrison 10-56, Hedgepeth 3-29. Heights, Smith 16-242, Reed 13-89, Jones 4-11, Ross 5-7, Deshazer 2-1.
Passing—Derby, Harrison 10-18-88. Heights, Reed 0-2-0-0.
Receiving—Derby, Hedgepeth 7-67, Reese 1-21, Gillogly 1-8, Moore 1-(minus 8). Heights, none.