Salina South goes to the air for win against Hays High
By AUSTIN COLBERT
SALINA -- Heading into Friday's game at Salina South, the Hays High School football team made it an emphasis to shut down the Cougars' vaunted rushing attack, led by senior running back Mike Jones.
For the most part, this went according to plan, holding Jones to 99 yards on 14 carries, 71 of which came on just two plays. What wasn't planned was Salina South's passing game coming alive as a result.
"We kind of made some adjustments at the half and we shut down the run, but when you shut down the run you load the box to do that and that put the DBs on an island," Hays High coach Ryan Cornelsen said. "As athletic as their receivers are it makes it tough."
Salina South (6-2) was able to exploit the exposed Indian secondary in a 56-34 win, led by senior quarterback Justin Stonebraker's 238 yards through the air, 175 yards going to senior wide receiver Zach Nachbar on only six catches.
The win also gives the Cougars the Class 5A, District 7 title, punching their ticket to the state playoffs regardless of what happens in Week 9 against Great Bend.
Hays High (6-2, 1-1 district) will have an all-or-nothing matchup against Salina Central (3-5, 1-1 district) in Hays next week to decide the final playoff team out of the district. Salina Central defeated Great Bend 41-14 on Friday, eliminating the Panthers from playoff contention.
Salina South, the No. 4 ranked team in Class 5A in the statewide media poll, looked the part most of the night, racking up 488 yards of total offense and matching a season high point total.
The Cougars' big offensive night overshadowed the Indians own success moving the football.
"I guess the whole loss thing is negative, but if I could take one positive it would definitely be our offense," Hays High junior quarterback Alex Delton said.
"We were pretty crisp offensively and we put up a bunch of points."
Delton had what was arguably his most complete game of the season, going 14 of 21 passing for 173 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions, while also rushing for 49 yards on 12 carries with a touchdown.
Junior Hayden Kreutzer (3 catches for 78 yards) and senior Lane Clark (7 catches for 70 yards) came up big on the receiving end for HHS. The usually efficient Indian run game was fairly quiet with 139 yards. Senior running back Preston Weigel was held to just 72 yards on 15 carries, most coming on a 43-yard carry in the third.
HHS trailed 21-14 at halftime behind big plays by Jones (55-yard TD run) and Delton (52-yard TD run). Then the Indians made a statement on the opening drive of the second half, kick started by Weigel's long run to the Salina South 15-yard line.
A pass interference call on Salina South in the end zone helped set up a 9-yard TD pass from Delton to Clark to tie the game at 21.
Any momentum gained by Hays High was short lived when Salina South responded with 21 points in less than five minutes, the big play being an 87-yard TD pass from Stonebraker to Nachbar on a drive that started from the Cougars' own 1-yard line.
Salina South led 42-21 heading into the fourth.
"I thought there were times when we were playing our best football, but we just gave up too many big plays," Cornelsen said. "The margin of error against a team that good is very small and we had too many big errors. But I felt like our kids battled."
Hays High got a score back on the second play of the fourth quarter when Delton found Kreutzer from 43 yards out to make it 42-28. But Salina South answered with an eight play, 52-yard drive that ended with a 9-yard TD run by Stonebraker.
The Indians had one more score in them, a 15-yard TD pass from Delton to Kreutzer with 5:25 to play in the game.
Hays High forced Salina South into a fourth and 2 situation on the next drive, but a quick slant from Stonebraker to Nachbar for 11 yards resulted in a first down. The drive ended with a 2-yard Ryan Fox TD run.
"We gave up some big plays defensively, and offensively we had some wasted drives," Delton said. "We lost the game, which obviously is not what you play for, but we learned some things and we are going to get back and study (today) and get after it."