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Monday, Nov. 28, 2011

Olathe South reaches new level on gridiron

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TOPEKA | During the first week of practice, Olathe South committed itself to the “Total” season – taking ourselves to another level – and the Falcons did indeed rise to heights unseen Saturday, claiming the first Kansas 6A state football championship in the program's 30-year history with a 41-37 win against defending champion Wichita Heights.

“It took a long time (for South to win a football championship), but this is what I came here to do,” coach Jeff Gourley said. “Olathe South deserves this and, more importantly, these kids deserve this. I am so happy to be able to finish the job.”

As an added bonus, it came in incredible fashion.

South's Falcons, 12-1, and Heights' Falcons, who entered play with a 25-game win streak, combined for more than 1,100 yards of offense in a game that wasn't decided until the final minute when South senior fullback Jordan Ward scored his fourth touchdown on a 42-yard run for the fifth lead change of the game.

Despite allowing 479 yards rushing on 60 carries, South's defense provided the game-changing moment midway through the fourth quarter.

With Heights, 12-1, ahead 34-27 and driving for a back-breaking touchdown, South junior strong safety Dylan DeVries shed a block and hit Heights running back Marquel Moore from behind while senior cornerback Taylor Sheffield reached in and stripped the ball from Moore's grasp at the goal line.

“I was just trying my hardest and not quitting on the play," DeVries said. "I hit him and it happened to come loose. I honestly didn't even know he had fumbled until after the play.”

Fortunately, Sheffield did notice the loose ball and corralled the fumble at the 1-yard line.

“That was the turning point,” said junior linebacker Chase Hanson, who was in on a team-high 11 tackles. “We were all tired on defense. We kept saying we needed a stop, and finally we came up with one at the farthest point we could.”

From his own end zone one play later, junior quarterback Frankie Seurer Jr. dropped in a perfect high fade up the right sideline for senior wide receiver Drew Johnson, who matched an all-time record with a 99-yard touchdown catch and run.

“I've got three plays that I'll run out of the end zone,” Gourley said. “I'm not gonna lie. I stole them from Bobby Bowden. That's one of them, but I won't say the other two. I might need them later.”

Instead of trailing by two scores, South found itself tied with 7:43 remaining.

Heights retook the lead on a field goal with 3:16 to go, but Seurer hooked up with junior Matt Elliott for a 24-yard completion on fourth-and-10 from South's 29, keeping alive the game-winning drive when Johnson broke hard on a slant as Elliott slipped out wide to the same side on an uncovered wheel route.

“It's one of things you don't want to use all the time,” Gourley said. “It's got be at the right time and the right place, but fourth down in the state championship is a good time to use it.”

Two plays later, Ward, who finished with 27 carries for 265 yards, broke free up the gut and cut back for the game-winning score, which he punctuated by diving across the goal line with a Heights defender draped on him.

“There were some worries when it was fourth-and-10, but when we got that first down I saw the look in everybody's eyes and I knew that we were going to win a state championship,” senior defensive end Justin Walterman said. “At that point, I knew that we would pull it out.”

Ward scored touchdowns on runs of 2 yards and 1 yard in the first half, which ended with Heights in front 21-19. He added an 83-yard TD gallop in the third quarter.

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