On a cold and bitter night, with the temperature hovering around 40 degrees at kickoff, the Hays High football team's playoff hopes were on the line.
After coming off a 36-0 rout of Abilene, the Indians (3-6) were hoping for a similar outcome on Senior Night against the Red Raiders of Wamego (4-4). The Indians fought hard all night, but came up just short of a win, 24-21.
Although they came up short, Hays High coach Randall Rath was proud of the way his team fought throughout the game.
“The kids have played hard all year,” he said. “We were just out-manned at a lot of positions, and the kids just played hard and fought through it. But it’s just a tough loss right now”
The Indians defense was stellar all night, holding the Wamego offense to only six points.
“We’ve been pretty good all year on defense, just like tonight,” Rath said. “Eighteen of their points came off of special teams and a pick-six, so those are things we’ve just got to work on.”
An area of emphasis to improve on before next year will be the offense.
“Offensively, we’ve just got to have more of an identity,” Rather said. “We get up against big physical kids, and we struggle offensively, and that’s just something we’ve got to improve on.”
Wamego received the opening kickoff and began the game with good field position after a reverse on the return that was taken to the 47-yard line. The Red Raiders had some success moving the ball, and converted a fourth down during their opening drive, but they eventually stalled out at the 37 after the Indians came up with a stop on fourth-and-13.
Hays High began its first drive at the HHS 28-yard line, and the Indians were unable to get anything going as they went three-and-out. After the punt, the Indian defense held strong, forcing a Wamego three-and-out.
Hays High was able to pick up a first down on its next drive, thanks to a 12-yard run from Dylan Schmidtberger, but would be forced to punt.
Willie Sennett sparked the team with an interception after the HHS punt. Sennett returned the ball 13 yards, and the Indians took over at the Wamego 22. After a loss of 10, the offense battled back to set up fourth-and-2, where Keaton Markley would burst through the defense for 7 yards — putting the Indians inside the 10-yard line.
A few plays later, Hunter Brown would find the end zone from 2 yards out, giving Hays High the 7-0 lead with 9:28 remaining in the second quarter.
Hays’ offense struggled the rest of the quarter, but the defense stepped up and shut Wamego down as they did for the entire half along with the rest of the game. The Indian defense was led by Schmidtberger along with Logan Schulte and Palmer Hutchinson, who all had a significant impact on the game.
It looked as though Hays High would go into half with a 7-0 lead; however, Wamego would catch a break with 35 seconds remaining in the half when a snap went over the head of the punter and the Red Raiders recovered the ball at the Indians 1.
One play later, they carried the ball in for a touchdown. The attempted two-point conversion was stopped by the Indian defense, leaving the game at 7-6 at halftime.
Hays High received the kick to begin the second half. After a few false start penalties, the Indians quickly found themselves facing a third-and-long. Hunter Brown took the snap and kept the ball as he barreled his way 24 yards down the field, while being pushed by his teammates for a first down. However, the Indians were unable to move the ball any farther and were forced to punt.
The Hays High defense forced yet another three-and-out, and the offense got the ball back at their own 47. But HHS was only able to pick up one first down before a punt.
The Red Raiders proceeded to return the punt 85 yards for a touchdown, giving them the lead. The two-point conversion was once again no good, and the score remained 12-7.
On its next possession, Hays High drove all the way down to the 23-yard line of Wamego, but on fourth-and-3, Hunter Brown was hit as he was throwing the ball, and the pass fell incomplete. The Indian defense once again held strong, forcing another punt.
Hays High finally found the end zone on its next drive after Hunter Brown found Markley for 34 yards all the way down to the 5 of Wamego. Two plays later, Markley found pay dirt. After a missed extra point, the score was 13-12 with 11:21 left to play in the game.
It only took Wamego two plays to respond when Jackson Jantz found Brad Sackrider for a 49-yard touchdown pass, regaining the lead at 18-13
Hays High took over at their own 22 with 10:13 remaining. The Indians were able to drive all the way down inside the Wamego red zone, where they faced fourth-and-2. It appeared as though a defensive lineman jumped in the neutral zone, but the Indians didn’t get the call, and after a timeout, they came up just short of the first down.
After another three and out, Hays High had another chance, but the Wamego defense came up with a 50-yard pick six.
It started to look bleak for the Indians, but they refused to go down without a fight and on their next possession, they quickly drove 85 yards for a touchdown which was set up by Brown connecting with Graedon Mayfield for 13 yards, along with a 35-yard run by Brown. The two-point conversion was good, and it was a three-point game with 2:09 left.
The Indians attempted an onside kick but were unable to get a good bounce, and Wamego recovered it and was able to run out the clock.