Six touchdowns from the offense and five turnovers from the defense. That combination was more than enough to get Salina Central another win in its regular season finale.
Central scored 36 unanswered points to take a seemingly comfortable lead against Hays, then shut out the Indians in the final quarter after things got a little more interesting than the Mustangs would have liked in the 43-21 victory Friday night at Salina Stadium.
Central finished the regular season 6-2 and will open the Class 5A playoffs next week at home against Goddard-Eisenhower.
“That’s something we’re really proud of,” Central’s Quinton Stewart said of the six wins this season. “We’ve worked hard to achieve that.
“This is a special group and we all work hard.”
Stewart played a big part when Central built a 28-7 lead in the first half. The 6-foot-3 junior had each of his team’s first three touchdowns, all on pass receptions from junior quarterback Jackson Kavanagh.
Central also had three first-half turnovers, including interceptions for safety Ben Driver and lineman Talus Price, and a fumble recovered by Gage Prester.
“The turnovers were pretty big,” said Driver, who added a second interception late in the fourth quarter. “Getting interceptions is my job, but I think it’s better when one of the big lineman get one. It’s rare for them so it was pretty awesome.”
While Stewart had the Mustangs first three touchdowns, senior running back Taylon Peters took care of the last three.
The biggest may have been a 61-yard catch and run touchdown on the second play of the fourth quarter after Hays had cut what had been a 29-point deficit down to 36-21.
Peters took the short pass near the line of scrimmage, got to the outside, broke free from tacklers and sidestepped another before getting to the end zone. That score with 11:23 remaining in the fourth was the final touchdown of the game.
“They got a few more points than they should have,” said Stewart, who also plays at defensive end. “But we got back to work and straightened things out.”
Hays scored on the game’s opening possession, going 69 yards in 14 plays and taking the 7-0 lead on Palmer Hutchison’s 8-yard keeper. The Indians converted all four of their third-down attempts on the drive.
Central answered by scoring on each of its first four possessions, the first three on touchdown passes from Kavanagh to Stewart.
Those passes covered 38, 5 and 24 yards, with Kavanagh completing each of his first six pass attempts in the game and nine of 10 in the first half. When Kavanagh completed a two-point conversion pass to Greg Gibson after the third Stewart touchdown, the Mustangs led 21-7 with 9:12 to play in the second quarter.
“When you have a back as good as Taylon, the defense hugs the line more and it opens it up for our passing game,” Stewart said.
After the Price interception, Peters added to the Mustang lead with a 32-yard scoring run to put his team up 28-7 at the half. Central extended that lead to 36-7 after a Peters 2-yard touchdown carry on the opening possession of the second half.
Peters finished with 165 yards rushing on 20 carries, while Kavanagh completed 13 of 17 pass attempts for 212 yards and the four touchdowns.
Hays had touchdowns on back-to-back possession in the third quarter. After Hutchison’s 6-yard touchdown pass to Hayden Brown, the Mustangs turned the ball over on their next offensive play.
The Indians took advantage of the short field, with Brown getting the final 4 yards to make it 36-21 with 1:33 remaining in the third.
Hays High (3-5) now will travel to Wichita/Kapaun Mt. Carmel (6-2) for the first round in Class 5A on Friday.