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Defense lifts Hays High into 5A playoffs

Published on -10/28/2012, 7:46 PM

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SALINA -- For much of the 2012 season, the Hays High School football team has won big games with its explosive offense.

But on Friday against Salina Central (3-6), the Indians rode a strong defensive effort into the Class 5A state playoffs, defeating the Mustangs 15-9 at Salina Stadium.

"We knew we had to show up, and that's what we did," said senior middle linebacker Kyler Meyers. "We came out to play."

With the victory, Hays High (7-2) secured its runner-up finish in Class 5A, District 7, and will travel Friday to Wichita-Bishop Carroll (9-0), ranked No. 1 in 5A in the statewide media poll, for the first round of the playoffs.

It is Hays High's second trip to state in head coach Ryan Cornelsen's four-year tenure. The Indians also qualified last season, losing in the first round to eventual champion Hutchinson 27-21.

"It's a great feeling," Cornelsen said.

The Indians kept the Mustang offense corralled much of the evening.

Salina Central got past Hays High's 30-yard line just four times and only managed to score a TD on its final attempt late in the fourth quarter.

The Indians allowed Salina Central to convert just five of its 15 third-down conversions and stopped four of the Mustangs' six fourth-down attempts.

"I thought we played really well," said senior defensive back Derek Bixenman, who stopped a Central drive in the red zone in the second quarter by picking off Central QB Mark Vaughn. "We came into practice focused this week, and we got it done. ... You've got to execute what you practice, and that's what we did."

Hays High's offense moved the ball well, averaging 5.7 yards per play, but miscues repeatedly kept the Indians out of the end zone.

The Indians lost three fumbles, which included two deep inside Central territory, and committed seven penalties for 70 yards.

"Those are things we can correct," Cornelsen said. "We just have to make sure those things don't happen again. We were fortunate our defense was playing so well."

Hays High sophomore quarterback Alex Delton ran for 79 yards and a touchdown but lost two fumbles. Junior fullback Preston Weigel ran for 55 yards, and would have had a touchdown but fumbled on the 1-yard line.

"I think a lot of it was trying too hard," Cornelsen said. "Preston was trying to get in the end zone and coughed it up. Delton was trying to get extra yards and coughed it up. You want them to do those things to get extra yards, but you have to protect the ball."

Senior running back David Cardinal led the way for the Indians, rushing for 124 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries. He also had a catch for 52 yards.

However, it was Cardinal's miscue that gave Central the initial lead.

Starting on the Indians' own 5-yard line in the first quarter, Cardinal took a toss and was tackled in the endzone for 5-yard loss and a safety.

But Cardinal responded positively on Hays High's next drive, reeling in a 52-yard catch on the first play and posting 76 yards on the Indians' nine-play, 80-yard drive. He capped the possession with a 1-yard touchdown run.

On the Indians' next possession, Delton capped a 90-yard drive with a 7-yard touchdown run to the corner of the endzone to lead 12-2.

However, it was a soccer player who might have saved the day for the Indians.

Junior kicker Lane Clark made a 33-yard field goal with 7:57 remaining to put Hays High up 15-2, but then he also made an open field tackle to prevent Central senior Spencer Schrader from returning the following kickoff for a touchdown.

Clark, who has played soccer for Hays High the past three seasons, played football when he was younger, according to Cornelsen.

"Tackling is not that foreign to him," Cornelsen said. "He came up and made a big play, and he's made some big plays before."

Central rallied late, going 71 yards in a minute and scoring on a 35-yard touchdown scramble by Vaughn.

However, Central failed to recover the ensuing onside kick.

Cornelsen said his defense demonstrated how much it's grown this season. In Week 1, the Indians gave up 44 points to Junction City and an average of 35.3 points per game in their first three games.

"You watch us Week 1 defensively, and you would never have dreamed we would come down here and hold a team to nine points," Cornelsen said. "I've got to give credit to our defensive coaches. They have spent a lot of time working with their kids to improve. Our kids have listened and have spent the same amount of time trying to get better."

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