After not playing last week, the unbeaten Hays High football team had some pent-up energy to release.
"Our coach said we were caged animals just waiting to play," Hays High junior linebacker Gavin Meyers said.
That seemed to be an apt description for the Indians, who set the tone on Friday night against Dodge City by scoring on their first play from scrimmage and dominating defensively from the get-go.
Hays stayed in control all night, clinching an outright Western Athletic Conference championship and moving to 5-0 on the season with a 29-6 homecoming win over the Red Demons at Lewis Field.
Dylan Dreiling took a handoff and raced 79 yards for a touchdown on Hays High’s first play to get things started.
The Indians were off last week after Abilene canceled the game because of COVID-19 concerns in its district.
"You never know what’s going to happen after you take a week off, and to come out and take one (79) yards on the first play is pretty impressive," Hays High coach Tony Crough said. "It was fun to see us take off like that."
The WAC title is Hays High’s first since 2014.
"Ever since our coach got here we’ve been wanting to win (WAC)," Meyers said. "I think today was a great day to win it."
Crough said the Indians really started to visualize the goal since last offseason.
"The way we’ve been breaking it down every time we’re together is ’WAC champs,’" said Crough, who is in his third season as HHS coach. "We talk about it. In order to make things come to fruition, a lot of times you have to talk about it with kids. It doesn’t mean it’s always going to happen when you talk about it, but we set ourselves up for it and I’m glad to see these kids made it happen."
The Indians held Dodge City to 166 yards of offense and just 21 yards on the ground.
"They wanted to punch it down our throat," Meyers said. "We didn’t let them do it."
The well-known studs on Hays High defense’s again shined, but Crough was quick to credit the other defensive players who may not get as much attention.
"The interior D-line I think people forget because of (Gaven) Haselhorst and Trey Adams on the ends, how good they are, people don’t recognize how good the interior is," Crough said. "Carson Spray and Gavin Nutting are just incredible in there. They keep everybody off Meyers and Dalton Dale and (Tucker) Veach and Haselhorst and all the other guys. I think they’re really unsung heroes in there.
"And then the rest of our secondary — Bill Scott had a great night tonight. Wyatt Crain has gotten a ton better, Brett Orth was out there making plays on football, and Dawson VonFeldt, who started last year, and Hunter Harris. A lot of guys there that don’t get as much as attention, but the other guys couldn’t do their jobs as well if they weren’t doing theirs."
"We definitely feed off each other," Meyers said. "Our defense is just outstanding, every position, all-around."
After Dreiling’s quick touchdown to start, a penalty pushed the Indians back to the 18 on the extra-point, but Hays High went for two and Jaren Kanak got around the edge to convert and make it 8-0.
After Dreiling’s touchdown, neither team’s offense could get much going until Hays took advantage of a key sequence midway through the second quarter.
The Indians’ defense pushed the Demons back to their own 1, and instead of punting, Dodge City ran out of the back of the end zone to take a safety. Hays High then scored on the ensuing possession when Jordan Dale hit Kanak for a 38-yard TD to make it 17-0.
"It felt like it was a little bit of a slap in the face to our offense, and that’s what we told them, ’They took a safety because they don’t think we can score on them," Crough said. "Dodge has a good defense. That is a tough, tough defense. I thought that was a big drive for our offense."
Dreiling extended the lead to 23-0 with an 18-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Dodge City (2-4) scored its lone touchdown on Alden Knedler’s 17-yard TD pass to Matt Friess.
Linebacker Dalton Dale put an exclamation mark on the win by intercepting a screen pass and taking it 88 yards for a touchdown with 47 seconds left in the game.
"That’s another guy, talk about an unsung hero on this defense," Crough said. "You don’t notice him as much because of his stature (5-foot-9, 180 pounds), but he makes as many plays for us at linebacker as Meyers does a lot of times. It just doesn’t come with the same kind of thump, but man he makes a lot of tackles and a lot of plays."
Dreiling finished with 182 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries. Dreiling started the season as Hays High’s quarterback and is now playing primarily at running back while Dale has been taking the bulk of the snaps at QB.
"We’ve taken a lot of pressure off of him at running back," Crough said of Dreiling. "He doesn’t have as much on his plate as he did at quarterback, and he can just be an athlete. One play, he was bottled up inside and he runs around the edge. You see how fast he is.
"Sometimes every one forgets, when you talk about the D-I football players we have, you forget that we’ve got a Division I baseball player (University of Tennessee commit) who maybe a professional baseball player someday."
HHS running back Roy Moroni was sidelined with a hamstring injury but Crough said there’s a good chance he’ll play next week at Maize South.
Dreiling took over quarterback duties down the stretch Friday after Dale pulled a muscle in his back and was held out for most of the fourth quarter out of caution with the game already in hand.
Mylah Potter and Fernando Zarate were crowned homecoming queen and king at halftime.
Hays 29, Dodge City 6
Hays — Dreiling 79 run (Kanak run)
Hays — Safety
Hays — Kanak 38 pass from J. Dale (Fields kick)
Hays — Dreiling 18 run (kick failed)
Dodge City — Friess 20 pass from Knedler (two-point try failed)
Hays — Dale 88 interception return (kick failed)
Hays individual stat leaders
Passing — Dale 9-14 92 yards.
Rushing — Dreiling 25-182, Dale 9-57, Kanak 4-11.
Receiving — Kanak 3-54, Salmans 5-22, Kieffer 1-14, Dreiling 1-4.