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Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2011

South's D comes through in clutch

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TOPEKA | The defensive numbers weren't pretty Saturday for Olathe South, but the scoreboard read 41-37 with the Falcons on the winning end against previously unbeaten Wichita Heights when the game ended a few minutes before 4 p.m.

And that was a beautiful sight for South's players, coaches and fans.

“We may have given up more than 400 yards rushing, but we accomplished the goal we came to accomplish,” senior two-way lineman Scott Gourley said. “I'm so proud of all of our guys – from the scout team to the freshmen and on up.”

South, 12-1, allowed 565 yards on defense, including 479 yards rushing on 60 carries (an 8.0-yard per carry average), and never forced a punt.

But when a big play was needed, the Southside D came up with one.

On the game's opening drive, Heights marched inside the South 30-yard line before the defense stuffed quarterback Matt Reed on fourth-and-2 at the 29 for a turnover on downs.

Heights was driving again on its first drive in the third quarter, a seven-play, 68-yard march that started at the 20 after a touchback and ended at South's 12-yard line when junior linebacker Remington Whitley punched the ball away from Heights senior Marquel Moore.

The loose ball eventually went out of the end zone for an Olathe South touchback.

“Fighting hard, that's what our defense does,” senior wide receiver/cornerback Drew Johnson said. “It doesn't always go our way, but we always fight hard.”

Midway through the fourth quarter, South senior Taylor Sheffield forced another fumble by Moore at the goal line as Heights' Falcons were threatening to go up by two touchdowns.

Instead, one play after Sheffield stripped the football and recovered it at the 1-yard line, South found itself tied thanks to a record-tying 99-yard touchdown bomb up the right sideline from junior quarterback Frankie Seurer Jr. to Johnson.

“After the turnover, I had a feeling we would try to hit them big,” Johnson said. “We got in the huddle and Frankie looked at me and said, 'Drew, is your shoulder all right? Can you run fast and catch?' I told him absolutely, but the ball was in the air it seemed like forever. The wind took it, so I tried to turn on the jets as best as I could.”

The Heights defender couldn't keep pace, stumbled and crashed to the turf as Johnson hauled in the pass and dashed for the other end of the field.

“That was an unreal moment,” said junior safety Dylan DeVries, who also drilled Moore inside the 5-yard line on the fateful fumble. “I don't even know what was going through my head. I don't think anything was, because I couldn't even think. It was crazy.”

But the defense was finished being tested.

Heights answered with an 11-play, 88-yard march from its own 4-yard line to the Olathe South 8, where the drive fizzled and Heights settled for a 25-yard David Hoyer field goal – and a 37-34 lead – with 3:16 remaining.

“Right then, I knew the game was over,” coach Gourley said. “I knew we were going to win that thing. I knew we could get down there and score. The distance didn't bother me, but how fitting for Jordan (Ward) to break one up the middle.”

It wasn't pretty, but it was clutch – and it did make all the difference as South claimed the first football title since the school opened its doors in 1981.

“We didn't give up 37 points; they earned 37 points,” Gourley said. “I think our schemes were solid, but they were just that good.”

The players couldn't help but be proud, stats be damned.

“They were the toughest team we have faced all year,” senior defensive end Justin Walterman said. “That showed on the scoreboard, that showed in the field and that showed just about everywhere all the way across the board. That was the toughest team we've ever faced, and I wouldn't want to do it again.”

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