For the second time in as many seasons, the Hays High School football team started a new campaign with a new head coach. And Randall Rath’s ground-and-pound physical running philosophy this year was put to its first test Friday night at Lewis Field Stadium.

The new system, though, couldn’t muster much offense in front of a large home crowd as the Indians fell to Olathe Northwest, 23-9.

Rath, the long time coach at Oakley, admits the system is still a work in progress.

“We are going to talk to the kids after the game. We have to do a better job as coaches. We have to do a better job of getting the kids to understand our system,” he said, “Together, we need to get better on the offensive line and we will.”

Despite the offensive struggles throughout most of the game, the Indians’ defense garnered praise from its new leader.

“The entire defense did a really good job flowing to the football and tackling in the first half,” Rath said.

The Ravens and Indians traded fumbles early in the game, Hays High’s eventually resulting in a Northwest 27-yard field goal to put the first points on the board.

After the Indians failed to get a first down, the special teams took advantage of a strong wind on a punt and downed the ball on the Ravens 1-yard line. Two short runs by the Ravens were met with two timeouts by the Indians coaching staff, and the Ravens weren’t able to convert on a third-down pass to move the ball out of the shadow of the goal line.

Calling the two timeouts paid off as the Ravens were forced to punt into the strong wind with just a few second remaining in the first quarter. The bad punt resulted in the ball landing at the 10-yard line before bouncing back into the end zone for an apparent safety. The home crowd erupted as the officials gave the safety signal, resulting in the first points for the 2015 Indians.

Later in the half, it looked as though Hays High might have been able to hold the Ravens to just another field goal, but the Ravens were able to score on a 30-yard pass to go up 9-2 with 2:39 remaining. The HHS defense, though, did keep Northwest out of the end zone on the two-point attempt.

The heat of the evening and lack of depth began to take a toll on the Indians in the second half.

The Ravens brought nearly 90 players to Hays while leaving another 50 in Olathe.

They were able to rotate throughout the game and were the much fresher team in the second half, Rath said.

“We are not going to make excuses. They platooned throughout the game and that did take a little bit of a toll on us,” the coach said.

The toll was evident as the Ravens scored again with 8:00 remaining in the third to go up 16-2.

HHS used a fake punt by senior Kohlton Meyers to gain 19 yards on the Indians’ next possession. After the first down, the Indians got some offense going as Meyers also completed a pass to senior Keith Dryden. The drive ended, though, when Meyers was intercepted by the Ravens defense at their seven-yard line.

From that point, the Ravens’ offense and depth took control of the game in the fourth quarter as they put together a long drive that ended with a 31-yard touchdown pass to lead 23-2 early in the final quarter.

The Indians’ offense put together its best drive after that. Hays High went 87 yards on 14 plays, capped by a 17-yard scoring run from senior Isaiah Blackmon.

Blackmon took more from the touchdown than just the seven points.

“It was just a lot of heart. We didn’t give up in the fourth quarter.” he said, ”I thought it told a lot about how the season is going to go. We can get better, or it is just going to go downhill. I think we are going to get better.”

Rath won’t let the loss deter the Indians as they prepare to host Western Athletic Conference rival Great Bend on Friday.

“We are just going to keep doing what we do and hopefully get better at it. We’ve got to keep our heads up.” Rath said, “We are going to get better on Monday and Tuesday, and hopefully we are better by Friday.”