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SPOTLIGHT
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Playoffs on the line for Hays High

Published on -10/25/2012, 9:59 AM

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By KLINT SPILLER

kspiller@dailynews.net

For the Hays High School football team, the Class 5A playoffs start Friday on the road against Salina Central at Salina Stadium.

With a win, the Indians are in. A loss ends their season.

Game time is 7 p.m.

"This is a do or die," said senior Cade Sharp, center and defensive tackle. "A lot of our kids understand that, and it's just going make us fight even harder. We definitely do a lot better when our backs are against the wall and we have to prove something."

Hays High (6-2, 1-1 District 7) was crushed 35-6 last week against Salina South, ranked No. 2 in Class 5A in the statewide media poll. It was the first time the Indians had been blown out since 2010 when Hays High lost 35-7 to Dodge City.

Hays High head coach Ryan Cornelsen said, schematically, Salina Central (3-5, 1-1) is nearly identical to the Cougars.

"You couldn't find two teams with very similar defense -- almost exactly the same -- and very similar offense," Cornelsen said. "If you took their uniforms and made them the same color, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference between the two teams."

Unfortunately for the Indians, Salina Central is playing its best football at the end of the season. The Mustangs have won two of their past three games, defeating Andover Central 26-0 and Great Bend 20-13 while losing to Salina South 23-20 in overtime.

The Mustangs experienced some injuries at the beginning of the season and lost to three of the best teams in the state in Hutchinson, ranked No. 1 in Class 6A; St. Thomas Aquinas, ranked No. 4 in Class 5A; and Derby, ranked No. 3 in Class 6A.

Counting South, four of the Mustangs' five losses have been to teams currently ranked in the Class 5A or 6A poll.

"You can throw the records out the window," Cornelsen said. "... From what I can tell, them and South are by far the two best teams we've seen on the schedule."

In order to defeat Central, Cornelsen said Hays High will have to correct the mistakes it made against South.

Cornelsen said the defense will have to stop Central's run game, offensive linemen will need to stay on their blocks and the offense will have to move the chains. The Indians gained just five first downs against South.

"Last Friday, we were three-and-out after three-and-out after three-and-out," Cornelsen said. "We got put in a bind where we were forced to do things we didn't want to do to try to get back into the game and try to score quick."

Offensively, Central's top playmaker has been junior running back Malik Veal. Veal has rushed for 575 yards and six touchdowns, averaging five yards per carry.

"He's not as fast as South's kid, but he's a lot shiftier," Cornelsen said. "... We've seen some of the best backs around, and he's definitely in that category."

Central has passed on 30 percent of its total offensive snaps this season, and though the Mustangs haven't been particularly successful at it, they are capable of moving the ball through the air.

Senior quarterback Mark Vaughn has completed 31 of 72 passes for 379 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions.

"They are going to run power football, but they are also capable of throwing it," Cornelsen said. "They have a lot of play action, and they do spread it some and throw it. They've got a really good tailback with two big blockers, very similar to South. They are actually bigger up front than South was, both offensively and defensively."

Though Hays High suffered a humbling loss to South last week, Sharp said it doesn't change how the Indians perceive themselves.

"We feel like we are the same team, but we had a bad game," Sharp said. "Our plan wasn't very good, and we didn't execute. I think our players still believe we are one of the best teams in the state, if not the best. That's just kind of the mindset we have to have."

Cornelsen expects it to be a good matchup.

"I think both teams will come out with a lot of fire and excitement, because both teams are in the same boat," he said. "If you win, you're in. If you lose, you're out. That's scary at some point for both teams and their seniors. It's something both teams know, and both teams will give their best game."

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