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HHS gets Liberal for home opener

Published on -9/13/2012, 1:41 PM

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Hays High School football coach Ryan Cornelsen has gotten used to squaring off with his alma mater, Liberal High School.

After three years coaching Hays High, he said it's gotten easier, but this fourth game against Liberal will be a bit different.

This year, his father Gary Cornelsen, now an assistant coach at Hays High, will join him on the sideline as the Indians battle the Redskins.

Gary Cornelsen, the longtime head coach at Liberal, took the Redskins to seven consecutive Class 5A state football championship games and won four of them in the 1990s.

"Obviously, with Dad being here, it adds a little bit of emotion to the game," Ryan Cornelsen said. "Once we take the field, it's just like any other team, but there's always emotion playing where you came from and when you're proud of what you did (there)."

Hays High (1-1) will play Liberal (1-1) at 7 p.m. Friday at Lewis Field Stadium.

Senior Derek Bixenman plays defensive back and wide receiver and also is a backup quarterback. He said he's benefitted significantly from having Gary Cornelsen at practice and on the sideline.

"He is just a great coach," Bixenman said. "Obviously, we have a great coaching staff here, but he brings a lot of extra stuff that I never really knew. He brings out a whole new player in me."

Prior to Ryan Cornelsen, Liberal has dominated Hays High, winning 26 of 32 matchups and nine of 11 from 1998 to 2008 when the two teams started playing each other in the third week of the season.

However, Ryan Cornelsen has helped turn the series back in the Indians' favor, as Hays High has defeated Liberal in all three years of his tenure by a combined margin of 90-36.

Liberal has struggled recently, losing its last 15 Western Athletic Conference games and going 8-20 in its past three seasons. The Redskins haven't defeated a WAC opponent since they defeated Hays High and Dodge City in 2008.

"There's going to be a lot of emotion from their end with needing a WAC win," Ryan Cornelsen said.

"Obviously, with the relationship to Dad being on the sideline, there's going to be a lot of emotion for them as a team. We are going to have to be ready to play."

Though Liberal has struggled in recent years, this year's team will feature an experienced group.

The Redskins returned nine starters on both offense and defense and feature three all-WAC honorable mention players from 2011: junior quarterback Britton Abbott, senior offensive lineman Michael Begley and junior wide receiver Trent Hammond.

Under second-year head coach Cliff Abbott, the father of Britton Abbott, the Redskins lost their opener to Ulysses 43-27 but responded by demolishing Guymon, Okla., 80-7.

Liberal has produced the second-most total yards (870) in the WAC through two games. Hays High leads the conference with 874 total yards of offense.

Abbott, a versatile quarterback, has thrown for 411 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions in his first two games and ran for 155 yards and four touchdowns.

"(Britton Abbott's) a big kid," Ryan Cornelsen said. "He's got a good arm and really runs the ball hard. You can tell he's a coach's kid. He is real savvy.

"He understands the game and understands his reads," Cornelsen added. "He puts you in a tough situation, because he is going to read a guy, which gives them numbers."

As a defensive back, Bixenman said the key to stopping Abbott is simply shutting the receivers down.

"I trust our linebackers, defensive tackles, noseguard and D-ends to go up and make the tackles if we shut his receivers down," Bixenman said.

Meanwhile, Hays High is coming off a 30-point victory against McPherson. The Indians seemed to fix many of their problems they had in their opener against Junction City, drastically reducing their penalties, improving their run blocking and not wearing down on defense through four quarters.

The Indians likely will be without some key players against Liberal, though.

Junior wide receiver Kevin Rounkles tore his ACL, and junior fullback/linebacker Preston Weigel suffered a concussion against McPherson.

Weigel has been used heavily on offense, defense and special teams. On offense, he paved the way for running back David Cardinal and quarterback Alex Delton while also providing power running (98 yards and a touchdown in two games), and on defense, Weigel is a physical linebacker.

"We are so low on depth that any injury in any position hurts," Ryan Cornelsen said. "... With Preston, it's huge. He plays a lot of special teams. He played every snap offensively and defensively. He carried the ball quite a bit and really balanced out our offense."

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