The Hays High School football team simply ran out of big plays Friday night at Lewis Field Stadium in a 40-29 loss to visiting Great Bend.
The Indians scored on touchdowns of 61, 77, 80 and 26 yards but failed to keep up with the more consistent Panthers offense.
After scoring just nine points in the Week 1 loss to Olathe Northwest, the Indians made some plays that boosted confidence in the team’s ability to put points on the board.
“We know we can score from anywhere on the field if we just execute the play and block right,” Hays High receiver Keith Dryden said. “Whether it’s on our 25 of their 25, if we just play hard, we can score from anywhere.”
While Dryden and sophomore running back Hunter Brown accounted for all four of the Indians’ touchdowns, they owe some credit to those that paved the way, according to first-year coach Randall Rath.
“We blocked them real well,” Rath said of the big plays. “I thought we blocked pretty well the whole first half. The first quarter, our backs hit the hole hard.”
The Indians needed one more big play on the defensive side of the ball to give them a chance, however.
After defensive tackle Braydon Delziet stuffed a run on fourth and goal, the Indians started a drive from their own four. A couple of big pickups on the ground led to a 26-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Kohlton Meyers to Dryden. Meyers placed the ball just far enough ahead of Dryden to take the defensive back out of the play and allow Dryden to haul in the pass with one hand in the back of the end zone.
“It was a great pass, an amazing pass by him,” Dryden said.
Meyers scrambled to the far sideline to convert the two-point conversion, bringing the Indians within a field goal with just over seven minutes to play.
The Indians had the opportunity to get off the field, but allowed a 7-yard gain on a third-and-nine play near midfield. On fourth and two, Panthers quarterback Jacob Murray executed a gutsy play call and connected with Bryce Lytle on a 49-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion extended the lead back to 11 and ultimately ended the Indians’ hope of a comeback.
“They ran four verticals on us, and we didn’t pinch it inside very well with our corners,” Rath said of the play. “We’re playing way too wide, and we gotta get our corners to play inside a little bit tighter to help our safety over the top.”
Hays High wasn’t always chasing Great Bend, though. After the Indians forced a turnover on downs near the red zone on Great Bend’s first drive, Brown gave the Indians their first lead under Rath.
Isaiah Blackmon opened the Indians’ first drive with a five-yard run. Soon after, Brown found a seam, hit it hard and outran the Panther defense on a 61-yard score. Logan Clark tacked on the point after, and Hays High led 7-0 with five minutes and change left in the first quarter.
Murray and Lytle connected on a short touchdown pass with 1:50 left in the opening quarter, but Great Bend failed to convert the two-point conversion, allowing the Indians to hold on to a one-point lead.
A little more than a minute later, the Panthers jumped ahead. On Hays High’s second play on its second drive, Brown coughed up the ball and watched Great Bend recover deep in HHS territory. Murray found Lytle immediately and set up a short touchdown run for Murray two plays later. After another failed conversion attempt, Great Bend led 12-7 with :33 seconds left in the quarter, but the first-quarter fireworks hadn’t reached its finale yet.
A block in the back on the ensuing kickoff return left the Indians starting from their 23-yard line. On the first play, Meyers threw a lateral to Maddux Winter. Winter caught the backwards pass, planted his feet and chucked it down the sideline where Dryden ran past the Panthers’ coverage. Seventy-seven yards and an extra point later, the Indians owned a 14-12 lead as an action-packed first quarter concluded.
Hays High had a chance to build on its lead after Bryce Bumgarner recovered a fumble on the Panthers’ next drive. Unfortunately for the Indians, the home team gave it right back.
Dominique Rideaux scooped up a Meyers’ fumble on the second play of the Indians’ drive and returned it for a 23-yard touchdown.
The Indians again struck quickly, as Brown raced 81 yards to the end zone on a misdirection run on the first play following the kickoff. Clark’s ensuing kick gave the Indians a 21-18 lead with less than eight minutes until half.
While the Indians showed an ability to score in bunches in the first half, it left its defense on the field for Great Bend’s more methodical and sustained drives.
“A couple times we broke down a little bit, but our defense played a lot of plays,” Rath said. “I don’t know what it was until we look at the film, but they were on the field a lot.”
The Indians had a chance to add to the lead later in the second quarter, but another fumble — the team’s third of the first half — ended a once-promising drive.
Rath’s defense got another stop, and Hays High led by a field goal at the break.
Great Bend recovered its fourth fumble on the second play of the third quarter and returned it to the Indians’ 3-yard line.
After a pair of tackles for loss, Murray found Brayden Smith in the end zone on third down, and a successful conversion made it 26-21 early in the third.
Both teams’ offenses sputtered for much of the third quarter until Murray punched in his second rushing touchdown on a quarterback sneak with three minutes left in the quarter, giving Great Bend an 11-point lead. The score remained 32-21 until Meyers and Dryden connected for their second and final touchdown.
The Indians are still looking for their first win of 2015 but saw some encouraging signs in defeat, according to Rath.
“We thought our offensive line improved,” Rath said. “We weren’t as consistent there as we want to be, but we did think they improved. We just gotta be a lot more consistent.”
Brown finished with 170 yards rushing and two touchdowns, while Dryden tallied 114 receiving yards and caught two touchdowns. With a majority of the season left, the Indians are focused on continually taking steps in the right direction.
“This is only the second game,” Dryden said. “We can always get better, correct our mistakes. There’s just so much time. We can’t hang our heads and get negative.”
The Indians will take to the road for the first time in Week 3 when they travel to Liberal. Liberal lost its opener to Ulysses before beating Guymon, Okla. on Friday night.