Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2011
Falcons claim first football title in thrilling fashion
By TOD PALMER
TOPEKA | Those weren't mere church bells ringing out Saturday across the Washburn University campus.
It was Olathe South's football team taking turns clanging the massive freedom-style bell that accompanies the Falcons to every game and that every player rings in celebration of victory.
And what sweet music it must have been following the Falcons' 41-37 comeback win against undefeated Wichita Heights, which entered the game with a 25-game win streak.
Behind senior fullback Jordan Ward, who gashed Heights for 265 yards and four touchdowns, and the clutch playmaking of junior quarterback Frankie Seurer Jr., who completed four of five passes for 183 yards with a 99-yard touchdown in the mix, South won the Kansas 6A state championship for the first time in the program's 30-year history.
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, trailed Heights' Falcons entering the game's final minute before Ward punctuated the game-winning six-play, 71-yard scoring drive with a 42-yard rumble to the end zone.
The image of Ward diving across the goal line and dragging a Heights defender with him into the end zone with 45.6 seconds remaining touched off a raucous celebration in the home-side stands, which were overflowing with South fans.
But that was merely one of many key plays down the stretch that out South in position to prevail.
Despite allowing 479 yards rushing on 60 carries, South's defense provided altered the game completely by forcing a clutch turnover backed up against its own end zone.
With Heights, 12-1, ahead 34-27 and driving for a back-breaking touchdown, South senior cornerback Taylor Sheffield met Heights running back Marquel Moore's at the 1-yard line and poked the ball from his grasp. Junior safety Dylan DeVries also laid a lick on Moore from behind.
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 and pounced on the loose ball 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, Seurer 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 a critical 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 had TD runs of 2 yards and 1 yard before halftime and added an 83-yard score in the third quarter, broke free up the gut and cut back into the open field for game's final score and fifth lead change.
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.
OLATHE SOUTH 41, WICHITA HEIGHTS 37
WH (12-1) 14 7 13 3 37
OS (12-1) 7 12 8 14 41
OS: TD Teddy Colbert 63 run (Jared Douglas kick)
WH: TD Marquel Moore 2 run (David Hoyer kick)
WH: TD Jonathon Wilcoxson 15 run (Hoyer kick)
OS: TD Jordan Ward 2 run (kick blocked)
WH: TD Moore 25 run (Hoyer kick)
OS: TD Ward 1 run (run failed)
OS: TD Ward 83 run (Matt Elliott run)
WH: TD Matt Reed 1 run (kick failed)
WH: TD Kenneth Iheme 7 run (Hoyer kick)
OS: TD Drew Johnson 99 pass from Frankie Seurer Jr. (Douglas kick)
WH: FG Hoyer 25 yards
OS: TD Ward 42 run (Douglas kick)