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Hays High defense might be 'underrated'

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Hays High defense might be 'underrated'

Published on -10/18/2012, 12:05 PM

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The Hays High School football team's offense has blown the doors open on opponents, but at times, the defense has left people wondering whether or not the Indians forgot to shut the door upon entering.

Hays High (6-1), which has dominated with its defense in the past, has struggled at times this season, allowing 26.1 points per game through the first seven -- the highest average in Hays High coach Ryan Cornelsen's four-year tenure.

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However, when Salina South football coach Sam Sellers spoke about Hays High School's defense, he described it as underrated.

"A lot of people say Hays' defense isn't great, but I think that's because people compare it to the offense," Sellers said.

Out of the 16 teams in Class 5A with winning records after Week 7, Hays High is ranked No. 15 in points allowed, according to preppowerindex.com. Only Pittsburg (5-2) has allowed more at 30 points per game.

This was a substantial drop off from last season when Hays High finished No. 4 in points allowed out of 16 teams with winning records at 20.4 points per game.

The year before that, Hays High was even better, allowing just 14.3 points per game.

There have been several contributing factors to the Indians' defensive struggles, Cornelsen said.

For one, the Indians struggled early with its difficult non-conference slate. The Indians allowed 72 points combined against Class 6A Junction City (5-2) and McPherson (6-1), ranked No. 2 in Class 4A. Hays High also gave up 34 points to Liberal in Week 3.

"In the first few weeks, we were just extremely undisciplined in our assignments," Cornelsen said. "That's coaching as much as anything. We had to make sure we got all that fixed, and I think we did."

Hays High also has given up more than two-thirds of its points after halftime, allowing just 59 points before intermission.

"Sometimes, you drop in intensity," Cornelsen said. "When we are playing high-intensity defense, then we've got a chance to be pretty good. When we're not, we get very average and get undisciplined. And we are not good enough to do that."

Senior defensive tackle Cade Sharp said lower intensity might be due to Hays High claiming large leads early in games.

"We've struggled a little bit coming out with the same intensity that we do in the first half, because we've rarely been down at the second half," Sharp said. "It makes it a lot easier to come out fighting in the second half when you're down than when you are up."

Also, when the games do get out of hand, the Indians send in their substitutes, which has led to several late touchdowns this season.

The Indians showcased they could put together a complete game in their 31-13 win Friday at Great Bend (5-2). It was the first time this season Hays High has contained a good team to single-digit points in the second half.

"As you seen with Great Bend, when our first-team defense goes all four quarters and we have the same fighting mentality that we have in the first half, we do a pretty good job," Sharp said.

As a whole, the defense isn't much different than last season. The defensive backfield and linebacking corps have rotated some with senior transfer Chance Pitcock moving to cornerback and junior Preston Weigel moving from safety to linebacker, but the starters haven't seen much of a drop off.

The only area that's changed has been the defensive line. Sharp was the only returning starter this season, and the Indians got smaller, especially with the graduation of all-WAC and Shrine Bowl selection Zach Binder, now at Fort Hays, at defensive end.

"We've really spent a lot of time with (the defensive line) and tried to get them really good at reading keys and doing some of the things that give you an advantage when you're undersized," Cornelsen said.

Senior Ross Hoffman, who transitioned to weak-side defensive end after playing as a back-up linebacker last season, admitted there was a bit of a learning curve at first.

"It was an adjustment to learn up to the level of everything and start out and play to that intensity," Hoffman said.

The defensive line has improved, and several newcomers have made some big plays.

Hoffman is third on the team with three sacks and five tackles for loss, and junior defensive tackle Cristobal Guzman and junior defensive end Ty Whittington are tied for the team lead with two fumble recoveries.

With Hays High's high-octane offense receiving all of the acclaim and the defense's stats bogged down by early-season struggles, Hoffman said at this point, the defense might be underrated.

"A little bit," he said. "People don't give us credit."

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