The Hays High School football team earned its first victory of the season last week in Liberal, but Friday’s game against Garden City at Lewis Field Stadium will put the Indians up against another talented Western Athletic Conference squad with an advantage in depth.

The Buffaloes will take the field with a 3-0 record, having beaten Olathe East, Maize and Great Bend, respectively. Garden City topped the Panthers 42-28 last week, while Hays High fell to Great Bend 40-29 in Week 2.

It looked as though the Indians might’ve received a little help when Garden City running back Jared Koster left last week’s game and did not return. With Koster out, the Buffaloes offense became more predictable, as it repeatedly used the same play to moved the ball downfield and score a late touchdown.

Hays High coach Randall Rath expects Koster to play this week, and that means the Indians defense will have to deal with many different looks.

“They mix it (up),” Rath said. “They’re pretty diversified. They will run the football. That’s what they want to do, but they can throw it. They’ve got good skill kids. They’re just a very solid football team.”

The varied sets, play calls and use of pre-snap will test an inexperienced Indians’ defensive unit that has struggled to communicate and get aligned properly through the first three weeks of the season.

“All the kids are starting to talk a little more,” Rath said. “That’s been a very big weakness of ours, communication and getting people verbal. We’ve got to do a better job.”

Rath said it’s coming along, just not as fast as he would have hoped in his first season coaching in Hays.

Another area the coach hopes to see expedited improvements is along the offensive line, specifically in terms of sustaining blocks through the course of a play. While it might sound like a small part of line play, it can be the difference between extending a drive and sending out the punt team.

With the Buffaloes’ high-powered offense coming to town, the Indians are looking to control the time of possession.

“Our margin of error is very small just because of the numbers. We play so many kids both ways,” the HHS coach said. “I think that when you’re playing other teams that platoon as many kids as they do, that (sustaining drives) is very important. We can’t turn the ball over; we can’t put ourselves behind the down markers by making silly penalties. We just gotta play sound.”

Friday’s game is a part of the Indians’ homecoming weekend. While Rath admitted, he wasn’t a huge fan of the distractions that come with such an event, he hasn’t seen his team’s mindset impacted too much early in the week.

“It’s new to me here as a first-year coach,” Rath said. “The kids haven’t really said much about it, so really, it’s been kinda quiet, but tomorrow (Thursday) a lot more of the festivities start to happen. We’ll just see, but we’re trying to worry about what we’re doing.”

A big day from former HHS quarterback Alex Delton helped the Indians to a 42-28 win in Garden City last year.