Indians want payback
By AUSTIN COLBERT
Last year's season opener at Junction City was one to remember for Hays High School.
The 22-0 first-quarter lead was picture perfect, sophomore quarterback Alex Delton's debut was impressive, and the Indians were looking at a 1-0 start to the season.
Then mistakes washed all of those good feelings away in a hurry.
"I felt offensively we came out and played pretty well early," Hays High coach Ryan Cornelsen said. "Defensively we really struggled. Then we had some key plays and let them return a punt. They got a quick kick that pinned us deep and really the momentum changed. We couldn't do much about it. We couldn't get going on all cylinders again."
Junction City rallied to tie the game in the fourth quarter, forcing overtime. Hays High took the lead back in its opening possession, but it was a successful two-point conversion after a touchdown that gave the Blue Jays a 44-43 victory.
"The main thing we did wrong was we weren't prepared, physically or mentally," junior lineman Craig Dreiling said. "We didn't execute. We had some bad false starts that really cost us some yards. We weren't prepared."
It proved to be the only loss in the Indians first seven games last season, and it's no surprise that the loss still stings heading into this season and Friday's season opener at home against Junction City.
The Indians say they are ready to finish what they started a year ago.
"It was pretty tough knowing that we had already lost our first game, but it made us a lot better, knowing we could learn from it," Dreiling said. "Last year we had quite a few mistakes. A lot of us didn't get our assignments. We fixed that this year and will do a lot better."
Junction City is never an easy opponent and this year should be no different. The Bluejays are coming off back-to-back 6-3 seasons, and is still coached by Randall Zimmerman, father of Kansas State defensive back Ty Zimmerman, who led Junction City to the 2008 Class 6A state championship.
"They are going to be probably about the same as last year. A lot of quick, speedy guys," junior running back and defensive back Adam Klaus said. "We need to wrap them up and make tackles."
Junction City will be breaking in a new quarterback, either senior Will Ervin or junior Tanner Lueker. Both have been locked in a battle for the spot all of fall camp. The team's strength should once again be in its running game and backfield duo of Jerma'l Campbell and Dequan Davis.
Cornelsen remembers not too fondly the impact Davis had on last year's game.
"That guy kind of chewed us up in the backfield," Cornelsen said. "He was probably the best player they had against us last year. Then their best defensive player, who played defensive end and linebacker, is back, so we know they got a lot of kids back. They are going to be extremely fast and extremely athletic."
The speed is a little bit of a worry for the Indians. Not because they don't have the speed to match, but because the offense will unroll its new spread attack, and it's been impossible to replicate game speed in practice.
While it's been impressive so far, how the Indians' offense fairs against the Junction City defense at full speed on Friday could decide the game.
"It's not like we (are playing) a team that the speed of the game is going to be a little faster than practice -- it's going to be drastically faster than practice," Cornelsen said. "There will be a lot of question marks to answer this first week."