TOPEKA — When Heights coach Rick Wheeler called his football team into a final huddle on Saturday, most of the Falcons’ players had posed for pictures, had hugged family members or friends, had at least touched the Class 6A championship trophy that they earned with the 48-14 victory over Olathe North.
The laughter and smiles faded away as the players dropped to one knee to listen to Wheeler at Washburn’s Yager Stadium.
“I want to tell you about the prize,” Wheeler said, his left hand clutching the wooden trophy. “Everyone believes this is the prize. It ain’t. The speech is the same if we would have won or lost. This is not the prize . . . Pursuit of being a champion is the prize.”
Wheeler held up the trophy, as he continued, saying “This is a piece of wood. Something bad could happen to me, and I could drop it on the way into (the locker room). I won’t . . . I was going to tell you the same thing at the end, irregardless of the way this came out.”
The players then gathered together for one last cheer and began filing up the east stands toward the locker room. Wheeler met them at the top of the stands, giving hugs to every player, thanking them for the 13-0 season.
While the title may not have been the prize, it sure was sweet.
For senior running back Dreamius Smith, who scored four touchdowns and had 286 rushing yards on 17 carries, it was about redemption, about avenging the 2009 6A title game, a 37-3 loss to Olathe North. For senior safety Evan Wessel, a winner of two Class 6A basketball titles, it was special to win with his younger brother, Trevor, a junior linebacker. For senior linebacker Hunter Jameson, it was about fulfilling a goal set as freshmen. For junior quarterback Matt Reed, it was the culmination of months of work.
Even touching the trophy was special.
“That was exciting,” said Jameson, who had a team-high nine tackles. “I can’t explain it. It felt good. We’re bringing it home to Wichita. That was the mission.”
Heights won it in dominating fashion, just as it had all season as it beat opponents by about 40 points per game. The Falcons did it with their running game — they had nearly 500 rushing yards, Reed rushed for 127 and three other backs had at least 25 yards.
The Falcons did it with their defense — eight players had at least five tackles, including Devon Haynes and Trevor Wessel’s seven apiece. The Falcons held Olathe North to 110 rushing yards, including 53 by Victor Simmons. And they only gave up one big play, a 79-yard touchdown pass from Simmons to Adonis Saunders late in the third quarter when Heights had a 48-0 lead.
“The defense just played great today,” Evan Wessel said. “We focused on our assignments. Seeing our offense in practice every day helps us a lot. We have amazing backs on our side, and that prepared us a lot for this game.”
After an Olathe North encroachment call to start the game, Smith scored on a 58-yard run. It was called back on a penalty, but four plays later, Reed scored on an 18-yard run.
“We knew after I got a couple runs that they would be keying in on me,” Smith said.
Reed added: “The end came down, so it was a pull. This guy coming across, I cut back on him, and (the end zone) was right there.”
Olathe North (11-2) punted on its first possession, pinning Heights at its own three. Didn’t matter. Three plays later, Smith ran to the right, came to a complete stop, looked left and waited for the defender to bite. Smith then raced up the right sideline 85 yards for the touchdown and the 14-0 lead with 5:32 to go in the first quarter.
On the ensuing kickoff, the ball bounced at the 21 in front of an Olathe North player and it went back toward Heights, which recovered it. The Falcons took over on the Olathe North 23, and facing a second-and-16, scored on an 18-yard pass from Reed to Daniel Deshazer.
“That was unfortunate, certainly,” Olathe North coach Pete Flood said of the turnover on the kickoff. “To field that and get it going, who knows what goes on there.”
Heights had its own misfortune when punter Justus Moreland, on a low snap, put his knee down on the Falcons’ 10 where Olathe North took over.
The Falcons’ defense stiffened again, though, forcing the Eagles to turn it over on downs at the Heights four.
Olathe North’s next drive started at the Heights 32, but Heights forced the Eagles to turn it over on downs again.
This was the game Heights wanted to play. It wasn’t perfect, but it was close.
The celebratory moments, though, they were perfect. Especially as Wheeler rubbed at his eyes as he recounted how a program that was once the laughingstock of the City League had become a state champ.
“I got here in 1999 and, through the last 12 years, they are contributors to this state championship,” Wheeler said. “You can’t just go from not competing on a state level to competing on a state level and being successful right away.
“It takes a lot of baby steps. We’ve taken a lot of baby steps, and we’re glad to get this one today.”
Olathe North (11-2) 0 0 7 7 — 14
Heights (13-0) 21 7 13 7 — 48
H—Reed 18 run (Hoyer kick)
H—Smith 85 run (Hoyer kick)
H—Deshazer 18 pass from Reed (Hoyer kick)
H—Reed 3 run (Hoyer kick)
H—Smith 30 run (Hoyer kick)
H—Smith 10 run (Hoyer kick)
ON—Saunders 79 pass from Simmons (Gutierrez kick)
H— Smith 60 run (Hoyer kick)
ON—Saunders 18 pass from Simmons (Gutierrez kick)
Rushing— Olathe North, Simmons 23-53, Saunders 12-35, Wilson 6-17, Gentry 2-5. Heights, Smith 17-286, Reed 15-127, Deshazer 7-50, Jones 5-27, Iheme 8-25, Moreland 1-4.
Passing— Olathe North, Simmons 5-7-138-0. Heights, Reed 2-7-32-0, Smith 0-1-0-0.
Receiving— Olathe North, Saunders 2-97, Gentry 2-48, Swartz 1-(-7). Heights, Deshazer 1-18, Iheme 1-14 .
Heights coach Rick Wheeler speaks during the team's last huddle
Heights quarterback Matt Reed
Heights players celebrate the 6A trophy
Heights players pick up the 6A trophy
Heights' Evan Wessel
Dreamius Smith had 286 rushing yards on 17 carries and four touchdowns
Heights coach Rick Wheeler to the media after the title game