Unable to gain offensive traction and plagued by four turnovers, the Hays High football team closed the regular season with a 24-6 loss to Wichita Kapaun on Friday at Lewis Field Stadium.
In a game with seven combined turnovers — four by Hays, three by Kapaun — it was the Crusaders who capitalized on their opponent’s miscues.
Interceptions on two straight possessions by Hays High led to touchdowns for Kapaun in the first half. Hays High gave up a safety in the third quarter and Kapaun’s Cale Curtis took the ensuing kickoff 58 yards for a touchdown.
"When you’re playing against a team like that, and you give them the ball and they find a way to score, you’ve got to find a way to do the same thing back to them, and we couldn’t," Hays High coach Tony Crough said. "The message (to the team) was we got whipped at many spots on the field all night long. We got manhandled and whipped.
"Fortunate things happen to the teams that are more aggressive and more physical, and we got out-physicaled all night."
Hays High (5-2) will be the No. 6 seed in the Class 5A West playoffs. The Indians will play host to Maize South (4-3) in the first round on Thursday night at Lewis Field in a rematch from two weeks ago in which Hays fell by a point to the Mavericks.
The Indians’ defense continued to play a high level, forcing three turnovers. Safety Tucker Veach had two interceptions and Gaven Haselhorst forced a fumble that was recovered by Bill Scott. But the Indian offense was unable to take advantage.
"Our defense played well enough to win the game," Crough said. "Our defense is playing at a playoff-winning level right now, whereas, our offense isn’t. We have to get to the point on offense and special teams that we’re playing at the same level as our defense. I thought our defense played really, really well against our offense."
After Jordan Dale’s screen pass was intercepted by Will Doolittle and returned to the Hays 10-yard line, Kapaun got on the board on the first play of the second quarter with a 6-yard run by Andrew Gimino.
After another interception, the Crusaders extended the lead to 14-0 with a 2-yard run by Doug Bates.
Hays missed a 32-yard yard field goal late in the first half to keep it 14-0 game heading into halftime.
Veach notched his second interception midway through the third quarter and Roy Moroni broke loose for a 32-yard run on the first play of the ensuing drive, but the big-gainer was wiped out by a holding penalty.
Later in the third, a Kapaun punt backed the Indians’ up to their own 1-yard line and a snap went out of the back end zone for a safety before Curtis returned the kickoff for a touchdown. After a bobbled snap on the PAT, Kapaun ran in the two-point conversion to make it 24-0.
The Indians finally punched it in with about three minutes remaining when Dylan Dreiling scored on a 4-yard touchdown with Haselhorst and Gavin Meyers blocking in Hays High’s "Diesel" formation.
"It was a good drive and a couple good runs," Crough said. "We definitely said (late in the game) that we wanted to get something positive going for offense. We didn’t do anything different, we just found a way to get loose on a couple, and Dylan had a good run and found a way to get us in."
Dale, Dreiling and Scott returned for the Indians after being quarantined during last week’s game at Maize South.
Crough acknowledged it has been hard to gain consistency offensively with players being shuffled around because of injuries and COVID-19 protocol.
"We’re trying not to make excuses, but that was the first time this year we had our full offense on the field the way we wanted," Crough said. "It is hard on you. Different guys calling the cadence, different guys catching the ball, different guys at running back. Everything’s difficult for everybody when you’re moving around like that.
"We weren’t naive in thinking we were going to put up a bunch of points against this great defense, but we hoped to make bigger strides than that tonight with our full offensive complements together."
The Indians were without senior standout defensive end Trey Adams, who will likely be out for the season with torn ligaments in his foot, Crough said.