Wichita Independent linebacker Lueke Anderson had a beauty of an interception Tuesday night. Bluestem quarterback John Stiger was attempting a short pass to a receiver, but Anderson snagged the ball in full stride and returned it, full steam, 45 yards for a touchdown.
It was as if Anderson knew the pass was coming. Actually, he said he did. And that play ended up being the back-breaker in the Panthers’ 55-7 victory over their former coach.
Kyle Wallis was Independent’s coach until moving on to Bluestem last season. Anderson, a senior, said he remembers Wallis’ tendencies well.
“When I saw them in that (passing) formation, I pretty much knew what was coming,” Anderson said. “Or at least something close to it. I knew it would be a quick hit. I avoided the block and he dumped it, threw it right at me, and I got it.”
With the victory in the regular season finale, Independent (6-3) qualified for the Class 3A playoffs one year after going 0-9.
Wallis has paid close attention to his former team and had high compliments for Anderson’s season - especially the interception, which abruptly ended Bluestem’s 10-play, 40-yard drive to put the Panthers ahead 23-0 with 3:29 remaining in the first half.
“He made a great read on the ball and made a big-time play when they really needed it,” Wallis said. “I thought that really changed the tide and got momentum on their side. It was hard for us to recover from that.”
It was also hard for Bluestem to contain the Independent offense, which had 10 players combine for 354 yards rushing. Quarterback Matt Loveland had 159 of those on 12 carries. He also completed 6 of 9 passes for 131 yards, throwing three touchdowns and rushing for two more.
Still, it was far from a perfect game for the Panthers, who lost a pair of fumbles and were plagued by penalties all night.
“It was definitely sloppy,” Independent coach Jarrod Hibler said. "But we played through it, we played hard and we played through the whistle. When things go wrong, you’re able to respond that way. Last year, we didn’t respond well to those things. This year, we’ve been great about it.
“The kids are playing against their old coach, so there’s some extra emotions there. We just try to get them to focus on the fact that it’s just another football game, but it’s also a huge game for them for their playoff aspirations.”
Bluestem ended the season 1-8, one year after qualifying for the state playoffs for the first time in school history, but Wallis said he didn’t consider it a setback.
“We have a lot of high character kids,” Wallis said. ““We’re a really, really young group and Independent is playing some good football right now. We didn’t finish up the way we would have liked to, as far as wins and losses, but it’s a process. It’s not going to happen overnight, but a season like this helps us … understand we have to work harder and keep pushing in the right direction. Monday we start building again.”