HHS begins district play with Great Bend
By AUSTIN COLBERT
It was far from a perfect game, but the Hays High School football team's 35-28 win against Dodge City last week couldn't have come at a better time.
"We hadn't played very well the last two weeks and went in there and had a lot of mistakes," HHS coach Ryan Cornelsen said. "But we made a lot of big plays and made enough big plays to win the game. Hopefully that will build some confidence in them."
The win came at a time when it felt like things were slipping away from the Indians. A 35-0 loss to Garden City in Week 4 was followed by an unconvincing 31-6 win over Wichita South.
But for Hays High to turn around and beat a good Dodge City team without its starting quarterback and with its WAC title hopes on the line showed a lot about the team's character.
"I think that's really going to help us out," Hays High senior Clayton Riedel said about the win. "That started something. We really weren't supposed to beat them. They were overlooking us and we came in there and showed them we can actually play with some good teams and that we are good."
Now Hays High (5-1, 2-1 WAC) will try and carry those good vibes into Friday's 7 p.m. home game against rival Great Bend (4-2, 2-1 WAC) at Lewis Field Stadium.
There is a lot riding on this contest for both teams. It's the final WAC game for each, with Hays High looking to win its third straight conference title, although it will also need a Garden City loss to Dodge City in Week 9 to win the conference outright.
Friday's game also marks the beginning of district play, a district with little room for error. Only two of the four teams will make it to the postseason, and all of them have reason to believe they should be among the teams going.
Alongside Hays High and Great Bend is 4-2 Salina South, once ranked as the top team in Class 5A following a season-opening 41-35 win over Derby. Salina Central (2-4) is the other team fighting for a spot, and comes into districts with a deceiving record, one that includes losses to Hutchinson, Derby and Maize.
"It's an extremely tough district," Cornelsen said. "I think we can argue we are as tough as any district in the state. We got to go in there and play one game at a time and let the chips fall where they may. If you play well and you execute that's all you can do."
The first priority for Hays High is to get its players healthy. Starting quarterback Alex Delton is once again a game-time decision with a lingering groin injury that has kept him out of the last two games. He has taken most of the reps in practice this week, but it's still unknown how is body will hold up outside of the controlled environment in practice.
Senior fullback Ty Whittington, who is also a major player on defense, will be a game time decision as well, and senior running back Preston Weigel continues to fight through a turf toe injury, but should be a go for Friday's game.
"It's been a strange year in the fact that we came into the season with injuries and we never really got healthy," Cornelsen said.
"It's been tough trying to get the intensity and the speed at practice to play well. That's probably been our biggest obstacle."
But with district play here, the Indians know it's no time to make excuses.
"At this point you can't look back. There are no what-ifs," Cornelsen added.
"It's districts, and it's what you work for all year. I think we will be ready. The kids will be excited. It will be a big game and we need to play well."