By AUSTIN COLBERT

acolbert@dailynews.net

The 2014 football season for Hays High School marked the end of an era -- in more than one way -- and signaled the beginning of a new one. With a new coach and one of the most highly talked about players in the state, Hays High reached many highs and many lows this fall, making it one of The HDN's top stories for 2014.

Expectations were high entering the season, in large part due to the success of the previous five. In those five seasons, all under current Hutchinson High School coach Ryan Cornelsen, the Indians went 35-12 and made back-to-back state playoff appearances for the first time in school history.

Then Cornelsen did what he called was the "hardest thing I've ever had to do," opting to leave HHS for Hutch, where he took the Salthawks to the Class 6A state title game in his first season.

Taking his place was then 41-year-old Bo Black, who had spent the previous 13 seasons as the head coach at Great Bend High School where he went 83-47 and won eight Western Athletic Conference championships. He even guided the Panthers to the 2006 Class 5A state title game before falling to Blue Valley, 34-3.

"From the coaching standpoint of things, it just felt like it was time to go, time for new challenges, and time to start something different," Black said soon after accepting the job at HHS last winter. "It all happened really fast and we are still trying to get our feet underneath us, but here we are. It's been exciting and it's been fun and I feel like I'm 25 again with another big challenge."

While Cornelsen was known for his vanilla power run offense, Black brought to Hays High a spread offense, one that seemed built for the personnel he had to work with.

The Indians graduated some big names from 2013, most noticeably running back Preston Weigel -- the 2013 HDN all-area Offensive Player of the Year -- and fullback Ty Whittington, both staples of their run-heavy offense.

But they did have senior quarterback Alex Delton, already a Kansas State University football commit that signed a financial aid agreement just prior to the start of the 2014 season. Delton, one of the most highly touted dual-threat quarterbacks in the country, possessed the speed and athleticism that meshed perfectly with Black's new offense.

"Coach Black's offense is something special," Delton said earlier this season. "We are really blessed to be in that system because I feel like it fits me to a T and it fits our personnel to a T. It's every Friday night and every practice fun. Always learning new stuff in the spread system. It's always so fun."

The Indians needed a warm-up game before the offense found its rhythm, however. Playing in its first season in Class 4A Division I after moving down from 5A, Hays High opened the 2014 season at Class 6A Olathe Northwest, a late Delton touchdown run giving them a 12-10 victory.

All the struggles of Week 1 weren't present in Week 2, as Black made his return to Great Bend and the Indians rolled over their archrival, 49-6.

"Once it got started it was just another football game. That's the honest truth," Black said of playing against Great Bend. "The bottom line is this was a big game for a lot of different reasons, but we didn't come into the season with our goal is to beat Great Bend."

The Indians were on cruise control for the next few weeks, beating Liberal and Garden City each by a score of 42-28 -- with most of their opponents' points coming late when the game was well out of hand -- and a 57-8 thumping of Wichita South.

With a 5-0 record and the outright WAC title on the line, Hays High outfought Dodge City 64-50 in Week 6, the start of a rough finish for the Indians' defense. Nonetheless, the win gave HHS its first outright conference title since 2012 and first 6-0 start since getting to 7-0 in 2009 under Cornelsen.

The wheels came unglued from there, Hays High losing 55-21 in a game at defending 4A state champion Buhler to open district play. The team rebounded on senior night in Week 8, earning a 34-33 squeaker over Abilene to keep their playoff hopes alive. But in Week 9, needing some help to make the postseason, the Indians fell short in a 42-35 loss at McPherson.

"It's just really, obviously, a huge disappointment. In 19 years of coaching I don't know if I've ever been more disappointed in the fact that we weren't capable of making the playoffs," Black said following the McPherson loss that ended their season at 7-2. "Great kids, great senior class. Lots of watery eyes down there from a great group of seniors that are really disappointed as well. As a coach you always want to say the right thing and in a night like tonight you are not sure what to say."

Hays High was well represented on the all-WAC team, with Delton earning player of the year honors after rushing for a WAC-best 1,519 yards, passing for 1,402 yards and combining for 30 total touchdowns. Black was also named the WAC coach of the year.

Joining Delton as first team all-WAC selections were senior offensive linemen Brandon Hardwick and Craig Dreiling, and senior receiver Hayden Kreutzer. Defensively making first team were sophomore defensive end Share Berens, junior linebacker Connor Rule and senior linebacker Ethan Deterding.

And just this week, Delton was named the 2014 HDN all-area Offensive Player of the Year.

"It is nice to get these postseason awards, but it would be better to have a state championship award or a district championship award," Delton said when told about his most recent player of the year award. "I really do believe this season had memories that will last a lifetime. We enjoyed our time. It was fast -- it was worth it though."