HHS season ends with loss to Central
By AUSTIN COLBERT
It's a yard Hays High School quarterback Alex Delton will forever want back.
As the junior was about to cross the goal line to give the Indians a lead over Salina Central on Friday at Lewis Field Stadium, the football jettisoned early and was recovered by a Mustang defender in the end zone.
Three plays later Central running back Malik Veal broke loose for a 73-yard TD run to give the Mustangs a 21-14 halftime lead.
"We hit a few plays and got things going, then turned the ball over and kind of fell apart from there," Hays High coach Ryan Cornelsen said. "I don't know. It just wasn't a very good night for us."
Hays High never got that close to scoring again and would go on to lose 42-14 to Central on senior night in a game that decided the final playoff spot out of Class 5A, District 7. The Indians finish the season 6-3 overall, the lowest win total in Cornelsen's five years at Hays High.
The Indians will stay home for the playoffs for the first time since 2010, and with Garden City's 41-20 win over Dodge City on Friday, their two-year reign as WAC champions came to an end.
Salina Central (4-5) will play at Andover next week in the first round of the state playoffs.
"I told our kids it didn't have to be close," Salina Central coach Michael Hall said. "I thought if we could execute offensively we had the potential to put up quite a few points on them. The concern was obviously stopping and shutting their offense down."
It didn't look as if either offense would be stopped early in the game. Central went 80 yards on its first drive and scored when quarterback J.W. Maldaner ran it in from 8 yards out.
Hays High answered right back, also going 80 yards and getting an 18-yard TD pass from Delton to junior Hayden Kreutzer. Central responded with another 80-yard drive and a 13-yard Maldaner TD run and Hays High senior running back Preston Weigel scored on the Indians' next possession via a 27-yard run.
That's when both offenses started to sputter, with three combined fumbles and a punt on the next four possessions between the teams. Hays High was finally able to put together another good drive, but Delton's fumble at the goal line led to Veal's run and the game was never the same.
Veal, who rushed for a career high 289 yards last week against Great Bend, made a valiant effort to top that against Hays High by rushing for 267 yards on 25 carries.
"You could say he is somewhat of a hidden commodity because the last two seasons he has not been able to finish the year because of injuries," Hall said of the senior running back. "He hadn't gotten as many carries this year in hopes that we would have him at this point in time. It's obviously paying off for us, because he has carried the mail the last two games extremely good."
Veal ran for 150 yards in the first half alone, but Weigel wasn't far behind with 119 yards. Then came the second half, where Veal ran for 117 more and Weigel was held to only 21 yards to finish with 140 yards for the game.
Hays High was forced to punt on its first possession of the second half, and on the third play of Central's first second-half drive, Veal went 50 yards for the second of two touchdowns on the night.
Salina Central added two more scores in the fourth quarter, a 16-yard TD run by Maldaner, his third of the game, and a 5-yard run by junior running back Terrell Rodriguez.
The Mustang defense, which has given up 40 or more points on five occasions this season, didn't allow the Indians to reach the red zone in the second half until it was 42-14 with less than three minutes to play and both teams were trying to run out the clock.
"Our defense has been under fire all season," Hall said. "We actually played the most physical half of football that we've played on defense in the second half. That was the key."
Salina Central only outgained Hays High 473 to 404 in total offense, but three Indian turnovers to one for the Mustangs was costly.
Maldaner rushed for 86 yards and did not attempt a pass in the second half. Delton ran for 95 yards and passed for 103 more yards.
"We played flat. I didn't do a very good job. I thought I had them ready, but obviously I didn't. We just didn't play very well," Cornelsen said. "They played harder, they outcoached us. You name it, they did it."