Last week's playoff win was a legacy changer for members of the Hays High football team's senior class.
For a group that stuck with football after several difficult seasons dating back to middle school, last Friday's 31-6 win over Goddard-Eisenhower in the first round of the 5A playoffs helped change the narrative for the Indians' 12-player senior class.
"There was a sense of excitement, happiness, relief, because we've just been grinding and grinding," senior receiver Dylan Ruder said. "We always had a feeling that eventually something had to happen for us. Something had to go our way."
That moment finally arrived thanks to a dominant second half against Eisenhower. Hays outscored the Tigers 24-0 after halftime to record just the third playoff win in program history.
"We’ve been through a lot as a group — not getting more than three wins since like fifth-grade year, and then coming out and getting our fourth win and a big win for the school," HHS running back Hayden Brown said. “Everyone was counting us out, no one thought we could win. We proved them wrong.”
"I don't think anyone else really thought we were going to win," lineman Brock Lummus said. "But we all thought, as a team, that we were going to win."
The Indians (4-5) will look to take the same mindset into the second round of the playoffs, facing No. 2-seeded Maize South (9-0) at 7 p.m. Friday at Maverick Stadium.
“It’s been a while since we’ve won over three games and it just means a ton to the seniors,” lineman Luke Fletcher said.
The Indians' senior class is comprised of Brown, Ruder, Lummus, Fletcher, defensive back Taivian Creamer, receiver Hunter Wellbrock, defensive back Drake Summers, running back Brian Escobedo, linebacker Da'vontai Robinson, offensive lineman Jimmie Roe, defensive lineman Gavin Manning and kicker Matt Goodale.
"This was something we've been working for and we've dreamt of since we were little," Ruder said. "It means a lot. We came together. It's been a rough few years. But we're just really happy to get that one because it's not something that many people have accomplished."
"That win really helped our self esteem," Lummus added.
The four wins are the most for the program since the 2014 season. The Indians went 3-6 last year in their first year under HHS coach Tony Crough, taking a step forward this year.
"I had a really good feeling about Coach Crough, he brought in a really good energy and a really strong culture to the program that we hadn't had in the past," Roe said.
With a strong crop of young players in the program, the Indian seniors expect the underclassmen to continue the upward trajectory of the program.
"We're hoping to leave a steady foundation for them and that they'll just keep winning after this year and keep getting farther in the playoffs and hopefully win the big one," Brown said.
"They're very talented," Creamer added. "It's just really nice being able to mentor them and lead them in the right direction."
The Indians will be the underdog again this week against Maize South, a role they're embracing.
"We're just used to it," Ruder said. "We're used to being the underdogs. It's something we really use to our benefit because people overlook us all the time. But we're ready to go in there and ready to try and steal a game."
"Once again, people don't think we will win, and I think we have a really good chance of winning," Lummus said. "We just got to keep that mindset and keep it rolling."
"I feel like the mindset we all should have is that anything is possible," Robinson added. "If you don't believe in yourself, then nobody else will."
After the big win last week, Crough said the Indians are playing with "house money."
"Nobody outside of our locker room expected us to be here," Crough said. "We're going to treat it the same way. We're going to go out and put it all on the table and let it fly and whatever happens, happens."