Shorthanded Indians drop tight one

Randy Gonzales
Special to Hays Daily News

Minus two of its playmakers on offense due to COVID-19 quarantine restrictions, the Hays High football team still had Jaren Kanak available for Friday night’s game at Maize South. The Indians’ bid for a comeback victory came up short, with Kanak stopped on a 2-point conversion in the final minutes. Hays High lost its first game of the season, 21-20, but Indian coach Tony Crough saw something that confirmed what he knew all along.

“We learned we have a team full of guys with heart, and toughness, with a will to win,” Crough said.

The Indians trailed by two touchdowns at halftime, but held the Mustangs — who were averaging 44 points per game — scoreless in the second half. The makeshift offense, with Kanak — normally a wide receiver — at quarterback, scored twice and had a chance to win it at the end. Kanak threw for a TD and ran for two more, and had another scoring run called back by penalty in his first-ever game at QB.

“We thought he did really well,” Crough said. “We thought if we could get the ball to the best athlete on the field we had a chance to make some plays.”

Crough learned Sunday night he would be without starting quarterback Jordan Dale and Dylan Dreiling, who started the year at QB but moved to running back with Dale’s emergence. The Indians also were without starting defensive back Bill Scott, all due to COVID-19 quarantine protocols. Crough said they had possible exposure to the coronavirus in the class room and were under a 14-day quarantine.

“We knew all week,” Crough said. “We had a chance to prepare for it, but still tough with all the circumstances, especially offensively.”

After recovering an early fumble, Kanak scored three plays later on a 23-yard run. Maize South (4-2) answered with a 10-yard scoring pass from Colin Shields to Jake Johnson. It was the first points HHS had given up in the first quarter all season.

Hays High (5-1) appeared to take the lead in the second quarter, but Kanek’s 17-yard scramble into the end zone was called back by penalty. The Indians were forced to go for a field goal, and Jack Fields’ try from 39 yards came up just short.

“That one hurt bad,” Crough said of the penalty. “You can’t afford to do those things when you’re limited offensively.”

The Mavericks then scored twice to take a 21-7 lead to the locker room. Evan Cantu scored from a yard out, and Shields hooked up with Johnson again, this time from 39 yards out. The Indians, however, held the Mavericks in check after halftime to give the offense a chance to get back in the game.

“There weren’t a bunch of adjustments,” Crough said. “Just talked to the defense, settled them down.”

Hays High got within a touchdown in the third quarter when Kanek fooled the Maize South defense in a short-yardage situation from the Maverick 23. He took the shotgun snap and appeared to run the ball only to stop just short of the line and lob a pass downfield to a wide-open Bryce Salmans, who trotted into the end zone. It was a play put in on Wednesday after practice.

“You fake the run and hope everybody bites, and they did,” Crough said.

Shields then dropped a snap in punt formation, setting up the Indians on the Maverick 17-yard line. The offense couldn’t move the ball and Fields was just short on a field goal attempt from 42 yards out.

A 30-yard pass from Kanek to Carson Kieffer to the Maize South 7-yard line set up Kanek’s 4-yard TD run up the middle with 2:38 left in the game. Kanek was stuffed on the 2-point try on the same play.

“We didn’t think twice about it,” Crough said of the decision to go for the 2-point conversion and the lead. “We just knew it was the right thing to do. Just show our kids we’re going to try to win games when we have a chance.”

Next up for Hays High is a home game on Friday against Wichita-Kapaun Mt. Carmel (5-1). The Crusaders were forfeit winners over Liberal on Friday night. Crough is unsure of the status of his quarantined players for that game.

“We’re hoping the end of this week, we’re not sure,” Crough said. “We’re not exactly sure we’re going to have them back this week, either.

“It’s very frustrating, especially with the kind of year we’re having,” he added. “It’s just a weird year. Everybody’s dealing with the same thing. But it is frustrating.”