WICHITA, Kan.—When Garden City stacked its defense against Wichita Heights' vaunted running game, quarterback Matt Reed had an answer.
Reed completed three first-half touchdown passes and the Falcons roared past Garden City 35-3 Friday in the Class 6A football quarterfinals.
The Falcons called nine consecutive running plays when head coach Rick Wheeler and offensive coordinator Matt Kelly figured it was time to test the Buffaloes' pass defense in a scoreless game.
Speedster Kenneth Iheme, the Falcons' fastest player, outraced the Garden City secondary on a 61-yard touchdown pass. Reed made a play fake and threw a perfectly-lofted pass to Iheme with 42 seconds left in the first quarter for a 7-0 lead.
"My read on that play is the safety and if he comes up, I throw it over the top," said Reed, who is 28-1 as a starting quarterback. "No one was going to catch him. If I want to play quarterback in college, I need to show I can throw the ball like that."
Reed would throw two more touchdown passes before halftime, which was just fine with Wheeler.
"Garden City was doing everything in their power to stop our running game," Wheeler said. "Matt has always passed the ball well when we've needed to. We don't always need it, but we really work on our passing game every week in practice. That work paid off because I was happy the way we passed and caught the ball tonight."
Garden City's blitzing defense started strong by stopping the Falcons' first two drives. A sack by Preston Banks helped set up the Falcons' first score.
The Falcons quickly converted the eighth interception of the season by Jimmy Washington into a second touchdown. Matt Reed flipped a pass to Chris Reed and Jon Wilcoxson freed him for a 31-yard touchdown with a crushing block on Grayson Tempel with 10:53 left in the second period for a 14-0 lead.
Wilcoxson later earned his just reward with a clinching 22-yard touchdown run to cap a 74-yard rushing night.
"Jon is a great blocker, totally unselfish," Reed said. "When he runs, he usually makes the most of his opportunities."
Heights had to work harder for its third score on 10-play drive that covered 47 yards. The Falcons ran the ball into scoring position and Reed completed an 8-yard touchdown to Gabriel Lynch.
Reed missed some practice time this week because of a weak ankle and left most of the running to his teammates. Wheeler also simplified the offense to limit Reed's option reads. Garden City featured a physical defense, but the Falcons' fleet of speedy backs answered with some big plays.
Iheme scored on a 14-yard run and led a 222-yard run game with 80 yards. The Falcons' offensive line of tackles Ricardo Gonzalez and Steven Walker, guards Brandon Wharton and Alex Knowles and center Grant Watkins protected Reed and opened running gaps against a stacked defense. The Falcons finished with 343 yards offense.
The Falcons' defense turned back Garden City twice in scoring position, including a goal-line stand to start the second half. Washington made a big tackle on a blitz to break up one play. Garden City's Carlos Chavez kicked a 27-yard field goal to break up the Falcons shutout with 5:27 left in the third period.
A second-half interception by Skylar Gatson was also converted into Wilcoxen's touchdown for a 35-3 lead.
"Our defense played a great game, very solid," Wheeler said. "A couple of times, they came up with big plays to keep Garden City out of the end zone."
Garden City finished with 111 yards rushing and 62 yards passing. The Falcons sacked Garden City quarterback Jake Curran several times and pressured him into 7-of-14 passing with two interceptions. Curran had thrown for 1,327 yards and 10 touchdowns for Garden City (7-3).
The Falcons' first-half offense was perfectly balanced with 116 yards passing and 108 yards rushing. The Falcons' defense limited the Buffaloes to 40 first-half yards on 19 offensive snaps.
Defending Class 6A state champion Wichita Heights (11-0) will ride a 24-game winning streak into a semifinal rematch at Derby next Friday. Derby led the Falcons 35-21 in the first meeting before the Falcons rallied for a 49-35 victory.