By AUSTIN COLBERT
Surrounded by the Indian players, Hays High School football coach Bo Black delivered an empowering and hopefully motivating post-practice speech Wednesday. Fresh off a disappointing -- and somewhat surprising -- 55-21 loss at Buhler in their Class 4A Division I, District 8 opener, the Indians hope to find out what kind of team they are when Abilene (6-1 overall, 0-1 district) visits at 7 p.m. Friday at Lewis Field Stadium, senior night for the Indians.
"Good teams lose once in a while," Black said to the players. "Great teams find a way to bounce back."
Hays High (6-1, 0-1) entered Friday's contest with the Crusaders with an unblemished record, having made relatively easy work of the WAC en route to its first conference title since 2012.
Then came Buhler, the first Class 4A opponent the Indians had seen all season, and it became clear early in that game they weren't ready for the task at hand.
"I think we drank a little bit of the Kool-Aid thinking that we beat all these 6A and 5A teams and then you turn around and see what our conference did last week," Black said, referring to the WAC's 2-3 record in its district openers, the wins coming against teams with a combined four wins.
"I think they are a better football team, is the No. 1 reason that we lost, and know that we have to get better. But yeah, I think we lacked a little bit of focus, but we lacked a lot of things. There was a lot more than focus."
Buhler, the defending Class 4A state champion, scored touchdowns on its first five possessions against HHS, led 35-7 late in the second quarter and amassed 601 total yards of offense, including 321 rushing yards by Crusader junior quarterback Jace Williams.
The Hays High defense, which had also allowed 449 yards and 50 points against Dodge City the week before in a 64-50 win, struggled to put forth any resistance for the second consecutive week. The offense, despite 441 yards of offense against the Crusaders, also had three turnovers and was unable to find any consistency as the deficit continued to climb.
"I think it was a real wake up call and at the same time, I'm not taking anything away from the team that beat us on Friday night. They beat us fair and square and have a really good football team," Black said.
"We were obviously disappointed in the loss, but more disappointed in the way we played. I take 100 percent responsibility for that in a lot of different areas. I think we've got our house in order defensively this week. I think we will be a lot better and we are excited to go out and play again and spit the bad taste out of our mouth."
Abilene, which also started the season 6-0, is coming off a 17-6 loss at home against McPherson (5-2, 1-0). In all reality, the loser of Friday's game between Hays High and Abilene will be eliminated from playoff contention, barring an unlikely tiebreaker scenario at the end of the season. Buhler travels to McPherson this week for the district title, while Hays High travels to McPherson on Oct. 31 in the season finale.
"It can be dangerous, or it can be pleasant; it can be whatever you want to describe it as. But it's the same situation; there is no doubt about that," Black said of Friday's game between two teams coming off its first loss.
"Our kids need to be ready to play. We are not making any excuses at all for last week. I think it's something we can get better from and our kids had a really good week of practice this week. We are just looking to come in and focus on the next task at hand."