July 27, 2010
KEY GAME Derby at W. Southeast October 15, Carpenter
Which team will win in the absence of their 2009 playmaker, Derby’s Hedgepeth and Southeast’s Randle, both recruited to Oklahoma State as defensive backs? The search is on for the player who can make them viable against top competition.
Wichita Heights surely didn’t expect what happened in 2009, neither in the first half of the season, nor the second half.
The Falcons knew there might be a dropoff from 2008 due to the graduation of seven standout defensive starters, but a freefall from 6-0 to 2-4 through six weeks of the Following a series of losses capped by an unthinkable 20-19 defeat at home against South, a streak of wins just as unlikely unfolded. At 2-4, district-opening wins against East and Southeast were feasible, but a 27-0 undressing of Derby at Panther
Stadium to move to 5-4?
Sure enough, it happened, then it happened again at sub-state, a 21-16 win at home over Derby, marking Heights’ third in a row over the Panthers in two seasons. That statement victory followed Heights’ clutch 14-10 comeback at No. 1 playoff seed Manhattan on two uncharacteristic touchdown passes from Matt Reed, a sophomore who
became the starter in Week 8 due to an injury to starter John Moreland and who completed only two other passes all season.
The expectations are back for the program after its run to the state championship game, though the City League’s first 6A finals appearance since 1997 was as demoralizing as the Falcons’ start to the season. Heights’ bus broke down on the way to Topeka, then when they finally piled off it, they were soon ready to reboard it. Heights’ flexbone offense failed to flex its muscle in Olathe North’s 34-3 rout.
But a returning core in the offensive backfield – KU-committed running back Dreamius Smith and quarterbacks Reed and Moreland – and on defense – safety Evan Wessel and defensive end Zerrance Brickhouse – can still hang their hats on their dominance of resurgent Derby. Heights could become the class of the 6A West if they can
continue to beat the Panthers.
Derby, which under fifth-year coach Brandon Clark seems to be running once again (2008: 10-2; 2009: 8-4) after crawling in 2006 (1-8) and walking in 2007 (5-5), is still beholden to two programs: Heights, which in addition to last November’s 21-16 defeat of Derby at sub-state also ended Derby’s undefeated 2008 run with a 33-14 dismantling in Week 9, and Junction City, which stopped the Derby offense in its tracks at 2008 sub-state, 22-3, despite the fact Derby scored 99 points in two opening playoff
Key to Derby’s quest for getting over the Heights hurdle and winning Clark’s first district championship, despite the two sub-state berths, will be their ability to find a playmaker on offense. After scoring less than 28 points only twice in 12 games in 2008, Derby failed to surpass 28 points even once in 2009. Jake Snodgrass and a slew of wide
receivers left the program after 2008, and Devin Hedgepeth, recruited to OSU as a defensive back, ended up being Derby’s offensive standout at wide receiver in 2009.
Quarterback Tyler Harrison enters his second season as starter, and backup running back Evan Oaks made some big plays in 2009. Someone has to step up this year.
The defense, which bent and broke many times in 2008 during the offense’s scoring tirade, bore down last season with the addition of Carroll transfer and 2010 returning junior Dillon Call, allowing more than 20 points only three times in 12 games. Call compiled 83 solo tackles, 21 for a loss and eight sacks last season at linebacker.
Southeast, meanwhile, missed its chance to break through against Heights and Derby last season. Led by OSU recruit Joseph Randle on both sides of the ball, Southeast lost by a score or less to both Derby (17-12) and Heights (28-21). Being grouped in district play with the Falcons has not behooved the Buffaloes, as Heights owns a
snowballing win streak over Southeast (10).
While Southeast has maintained its hold over rival East, they missed the playoffs for the second straight season in 2009 since being placed in a district with both Heights and Derby. The Buffs made the playoffs in Gary Guzman’s first three seasons as coach, but still have yet to defeat Heights, Northwest or Carroll.
Having lost the majority of main producers in the backfield, senior Nick Taylor returns at wideout after compiling 170 yards in three district games; senior fullback Tyrone Metcalf rushed for 63 yards in the season finale against East.
East, while favored to win its first two games against West and North, continues to search for an identity in the wake of the Brown brothers (who are still searching for their own identities since leaving the Aces). C.J. Graham carried the ball 30 times in the 2009 finale against Southeast, gaining 153 yards. The return of center Jonathan Nelson
and tight end Justin Johnson at the line of scrimmage make his return even more promising. –Tom Witherspoon
Advancing: W. Heights, Derby