GARDEN CITY — It would have been easier to just go through the motions, get on the bus and head back to Hays.
After getting beaten down by a 28-0 score in the first half, the Hays High Indians could have called it quits at halftime of Friday night’s game at Buffalo Stadium in Garden City.
Instead, they fought back, scoring a trio of touchdowns in the third quarter and a fourth early in the final period to get back within one score.
But a last gasp Hail Mary as time expired went begging, and the Indians’ furious rally fell short to the Buffaloes, 35-28.
“Just character — character, character, character,” Hays head coach Tony Crough said after the WAC loss that dropped Hays to 1-3. “In the past, they’ve quit in these situations, and just, it’s really fun to watch a group of kids decide they’re not going to quit, a bunch of coaches decide they’re not going to quit.
“We could’ve easily that in at halftime and went back to Hays, but what a bunch of fighters, a bunch of kids with character.”
For a bunch of fighters, the Indians sure had to withstand a flurry of early punches.
The Buffs (1-3) converted a fourth-and-2 from the Hays’ 11 to score a touchdown on their first drive. Then, Hays went three-and-out on offense, and the Buffs capitalized immediately with a 48-yard touchdown pass from Carlos Acosta to Tye Davis.
Just like that, the Buffs led 14-0.
They added two more scores in the second quarter on a pair of Acosta quarterback sneaks — he ended up with three rushing touchdowns and 140 rushing yards.
At half, the Indians found themselves in a 28-0 hole.
But to start the second half, the Indians’ offense — which was held to just 94 total yards in the first half— finally found some running room.
“They lightened the box a bit,” Crough said. “In the second half, they had six guys in there, where in the first half they had seven, eight guys in there. They changed what they were doing because they had a huge lead, and we just started attacking the numbers (advantage).”
Hayden Brown did much of the attacking, accounting for 37 of the Indians’ 50 yards on the second half opening scoring drive — capped by Palmer Hutchison’s 13-yard pass to Cole Schroeder — to cut the deficit to 28-7. That was just the start of four consecutive scoring drives for the Indians, but the Buffs also added one in between to make it 35-7 with 3:43 to go in the third quarter.
Hays responded with another Hutchison-Schroeder connection, this time for 37 yards. On the Buffs’ ensuing possession, Hays got a needed break, with Reece Morss fumbling and Hays’ Gavin Nutting fell on it to give the ball back to the Indians’ offense.
One play later, Hutchison hit William Sennett for the 32-yard touchdown strike, and in a matter of 15 seconds, the Indians were within 14 points.
Stepping into the swing of momentum, Hays went for the onside kick and got it, and six plays later, Hutchison ran a fourth score in just 20 seconds into the final period. Hays was down just 7 points.
“That kid’s a football player,” Crough said of Hutchison, the converted linebacker who threw for 211 yards and two touchdowns on 18-of-31 passing — while also throwing two costly interceptions. “He’s just learning how to play quarterback still. He makes plays where you go, ‘How did he do that? And he makes plays where you go, ‘That kid’s never played quarterback.’ But he’s a ball player.”
He nearly led the Indians all the way back to a tie score, but when the Indians got the ball back with that chance, he threw the second of his ill-timed picks, with Garden’s Tye Davis stepping in front of the pass.
A couple of exchanged possessions later, the Buffs’ offense ran 11 plays and took nearly 6 minutes off the clock, before turning the ball over on downs inside of the Hays 10 with just a minute left to play.
Hutchison did not have one more magical touchdown drive in him, as Hays was forced to throw the incomplete Hail Mary from midfield.
Hays 0 0 21 7— 28
Garden City 14 14 7 0 — 35
GC: Acosta 11 yd run (Ramos kick), 3:36
GC: Davis 48 yd pass from Acosta (Ramos kick), 1:10
GC: Acosta 1 yd run (kick missed), 10:42
GC: Acosta 1 yd run (Davis pass from Acosta), :23
Hays: Schroeder 13 yd pass from Hutchison (Schroeder kick), 7:52
GC: LaPointe 20 yd pass from Acosta (Ramos kick), 3:43
Hays: Hutchison 37 yd run (Schroeder kick), 2:08
Hays: Sennett 32 yd pass from Hutchison (Schroeder kick), 1:53
Hays: Hutchison 7 yd run (Schroeder kick), 11:40
1st Downs 17 14
Rushes-yds 24-124 53-249
Pass yds 225 96
Fumbles-Lost 2-2 2-1
Pen.-Yds 10-89 8-52
3rd Downs 3-12 2-11
4th Downs 3-4 3-5
Rushing: Hays: Brown 11-51, Hutchison 10-65, Moroni 2-10. Garden City: Acosta 35-140, Morss 11-91, Arana 7-18.
Passing: Hays: Hutchison 19-34-225-2-2. Garden City: Acosta 5-7-96-2-0.
Receiving: Hays: Sennett 8-119, Brown 7-62, Ibarra 2-27, Ruder 1-12, Schroeder 1-5. Garden City: Davis 2-59, LaPointe 2-34, Arana 1-3.