BY CONOR NICHOLL
Sports in Kansas
HOISINGTON -- Hoisington football coach Zach Baird has been enveloped in Cardinal football his entire life.
His father, Dean, and father-in-law, Blake Herres, are Hoisington graduates. Zach’s wife, Addie, is a Hoisington graduate. Dr. Herres is the radio color analyst with Hoisington play-by-play man Cole Reif.
Dean served as an assistant coach at Russell, at Hoisington from 1992-1997, and at Great Bend for one year. Coach David Webb was Cardinal head coach when Dean was on staff. Webb, currently a principal in the Gardner-Edgerton school district, allowed Zach to sit in on coach’s meetings when he was a kid.
“Every once in awhile, he would let me get up there and draw something on the board,” Zach said. “He was a tough, hard-nosed guy. He commanded everybody’s respect. He was really good to young kids, and that’s just kind of where I started to fall in love with Cardinal football.”
Baird graduated from Hoisington in 2003 and graduated from Fort Hays State University.
He’s always loved being in Hoisington. Baird coached youth football for a year in Hays, and was hired as a Cardinal assistant in 2008. Baird's record is 70-12 in his seventh year as head coach.
The Cardinals have the most wins of any current 2A program since Baird took over as coach, according to Reif’s research.
Dean never misses a game. For home contests, he normally arrives 90 minutes before kickoff. Dean played linebacker at KU and briefly professionally in 1975 with the Chicago Winds of the World Football League.
His son has built Hoisington on the run-heavy Flexbone offense, solid defense, effort and physicality. Baird said he’s been blessed with great assistant coaches and hard-working players.
“Every senior group you have is very special,” Baird said. “And you want to end in one way and that’s to win a state championship.”
Last week, Hoisington controlled another opponent in a quality 28-14 home victory versus Garden Plain, a 9-2 squad. Hoisington led 14-0 after the first quarter and allowed 24 rushing yards on 25 carries.
“A total team effort with guys playing extremely hard, and playing physical,” Baird said. “That was the difference in the game.”
For the second straight year, Hoisington has a rematch against a district opponent. No. 2 Hoisington (11-0) travels to Beloit (5-6). Baird said reaching a state title game “would be a long time coming.”
“I was able to grow up around the program, seen a lot of great players come through here, a lot of great teams,” Baird said. “And that’s kind of what we tell our guys is ‘Hey, once you are a part of this thing, you are always a part of it, and so when the time comes and when we do win a state championship, that’s for all those guys past and present.
“Because once you are a Cardinal, you are always a Cardinal,” he added. “So we feel like there’s been a lot of work put into this thing, not just by this group but a bunch of groups.”
Last season, the Cardinals opened 11-0, including a 38-7 victory versus Norton in Week 8. In the state semifinals, Norton pulled the upset in a 10-8 home victory on a last-second field goal.
“Ran into a really hot Norton team that was really big and athletic up front which gave us problems,” Baird said. “But I feel like we are getting there. I like where we're at.”
In 2016, Hoisington fell 35-19 on the road to Hesston’s passing attack in the state semifinals. In 2018, the Cardinals competed with Phillipsburg in a 31-14 road loss to the eventual state champions.
This season, the Cardinals beat Beloit, 26-20, in Week 8. Beloit, a young team with no seniors at quarterback, tailback and the offensive line, has caught fire after a 2-6 regular season. Baird wasn’t pleased with his team’s play against Beloit.
“That’s what we hang our hat on,” Baird said. “We've built this program on effort and physicality, so trying to send a message to these guys like ‘Hey, this program is in your hands now. It’s for all those guys that have worked to get it to where it is, that’s a disservice to them if we don’t play the game hard, and we don’t play it with physicality.”
Hoisington has played well since, including the Garden Plain victory that Baird labeled really good defense. Hoisington has seven wins by 21 points or fewer. However, the Cardinals have only trailed in Week 4 to Phillipsburg.
The Phillipsburg Panthers led 14-0 after the first quarter, the only team that has scored in the first quarter versus the Cardinal defense. Hoisington has outscored squads 104-14 in the first quarter. The Cardinals have scored on its first drive of the second half in nine of 10 games. The defense has allowed 113 rushing yards a game and 4 yards per carry.
“We have really good team speed, so we haven't allowed a ton of big plays,” Baird said. “We have guys that play physical with great effort. We get off blocks, and get a lot of hats to the football.”
Senior Holt Hanzlick has led with 120 carries for 959 yards and 14 scores. The top-five rushers are all seniors. Back Josh Ball (632 rushing yards) has moved to the left tackle after Cole Gilliland and Braden Mooney were injured.
Senior quarterback Mason Haxton has 671 passing yards with an 8/1 TD/INT ratio. Lineman Nolan Wilborn is one of several seniors who have progressed this fall and is one of the team captains. Baird called senior Hunter Morris probably the best cornerback he’s had in seven years. Morris is questionable for Friday.
Hoisington has permitted 4.5 yards per play. That includes a win against Halstead and running back Lakin Farmer, the state’s second-leading rusher. Opponents have completed 49 percent of passes for 958 yards with 10 scores against nine interceptions.
Last year, Hoisington allowed 13.1 points a game and forced 31 turnovers. This season, the Cardinals have permitted 12.8 points a contest and forced 15 turnovers.
“We haven’t forced as many turnovers as we would like, but we don’t gamble,” Baird said. “So sometimes that doesn’t happen, but we’ve also been pretty good about not allowing big plays.”