Hays High outlasts Liberal
By AUSTIN COLBERT
LIBERAL -- He has no name, yet has many, and according to Hays High School football coach Ryan Cornelsen he was the difference in Friday's game at Liberal.
"In my opinion probably the player of the game is our kickoff return team, not giving up any onsides," Cornelsen said. "(Liberal) won their first game based on getting three onsides. I thought that group did an amazing job."
Hays High defeated Liberal 52-38 in a game that saw 856 yards of total offense, 43 first downs and 156 plays from scrimmage. Liberal, led by quarterback Britton Abbott and wide receiver Trenton Hammond, amassed 463 yards of total offense against the Indian defense.
The numbers didn't necessarily surprise Cornelsen, who knew Liberal (2-1, 0-1 Western Athletic Conference) had a potent offense. The goal wasn't always to stop the Redskins, but to keep their offense on the sideline. Liberal attempted onside kicks after each score and always went for the 2-point conversion.
That put a lot of pressure on the Indian offense to keep pace, something it had no issue doing behind its 351 rushing yards.
"That was as basic an offense as we can run," Cornelsen said. "Nothing tricky about it. Nothing special. We just executed and moved the ball on the ground. We had to keep it on the ground and try to run some clock to keep their offense off the field."
Liberal wasted little time in its first drive, going 80 yards in 10 plays and ended it with a 3-yard Abbott touchdown run. A successful 2-point conversion put Hays in an 8-0 hole.
A recovered onside kick attempt by Liberal gave Hays High the ball around midfield, and it took five plays for the Indians to cover the distance, most coming on quarterback Alex Delton's 21-yard touchdown run. Running back Preston Weigel took the 2-point conversion in to tie the game.
Hays High (3-0, 1-0 WAC) didn't enter the game with the idea of running it as much as it did, but when Liberal showed an inability to stop the Indians on the ground, there was no reason to try and throw the football.
"Early on they weren't stopping it," said Delton, who finished with 127 yards rushing on 20 carries. He was only 3 of 9 passing. "If they are going to give us some, we are going to take it. At times we had our ups and downs, but basically we got in there and took care of business."
Hays extended its lead to 15-8 on its next offensive possession with another Delton touchdown run, this time from 6 yards. The lead reached 22-8 midway through the second quarter when Delton found the end zone for a third time with a 10-yard run.
Liberal got a score back before halftime on a drive that saw the Redskins complete two fourth-down attempts. Poor tackling allowed Abbott to scramble in for a 15-yard touchdown.
Hays High led 22-14 at halftime.
The Indians got right back at it in the third quarter, opening the half with short field thanks to another recovered onside kick attempt by Liberal. Weigel finished the drive with a 9-yard touchdown run to make it 29-14 Hays High.
Unfortunately for the Indians, the lead never got any higher as Liberal's offense couldn't be stopped. The Redskins went 4 for 4 on third down conversions in their opening drive of the second half and scored on a 4-yard touchdown pass from Abbott to Hammond.
"I thought on defense we slacked a little bit. I made a lot of mistakes myself," Indian lineman Ethan Deterding said. "They pass a lot more than we are used to, so we had a completely new defense out there. It just got confusing because we have a lot of young guys."
With the defense getting gashed, Hays High's offense needed to answer. Delton did with a 44-yard touchdown run, the fourth of his five total touchdowns.
Liberal walked right back down the field, getting a 15-yard touchdown pass from Abbott to Hammond. Another successful 2-point conversion made it 36-30 in favor of Hays High late in the third quarter.
"We knew there were some areas we would hurt defensively," Cornelsen said. "(Hammond) is such a good player that he puts you in a bind. We knew that part of it was going to come. I was proud of our kids. We kept our composure. We just kept playing."
Delton found Hayden Kreutzer for a 12-yard touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter, and Weigel's conversion extended the Indian lead to 14 points.
That's when the Indian defense made its biggest statement. Liberal had little trouble moving the ball back down the field and had a first down at the Hays High 12-yard line. But back-to-back incompletions by Abbott were followed with a sack by Deterding to put the Redskins in a fourth and long situation.
A pass toward the end zone was batted down by Indian cornerback Clayton Riedel, who was tasked with covering Hammond most of the game. Hays High took over on downs.
"That was big because we weren't stopping them at all," Deterding said. "Stopping them right there felt pretty good."
Liberal would get the ball back and made the most of it when Abbott found tight end Nolan Larkin for an 11-yard touchdown pass on fourth down. The two connected on the 2-point conversion to cut the Indian lead to 44-38 with 2:33 to play.
Hays High recovered the following onside kick attempt at midfield and Weigel went all 50 yards on four carries, including a 37-yard burst. His 3-yard touchdown run and successful 2-point conversion sealed the game with 1:40 to play.
Weigel led the Indians with 180 yards on 25 carries.
"We are very competitive on the field and it shows. We don't care -- as long as at the end of the day our score is higher than the other team, that's all that matters," Delton said. "It shows the character of our players."
The win moves Hays High to 3-0, and 1-0 in WAC play. The Indians will return home at 7 p.m. Friday to play Garden City (1-2, 0-1 WAC), which is coming off a 28-25 loss to Great Bend.