It all came down to making plays when it counted most.
Hays High School did, especially via the pass play.
Hays quarterback Alex Delton completed only 3-of-7 passes in the Indians’ run-minded offense against arch-rival Great Bend on Friday night at damp and drizzly Memorial Stadium.
Trouble was, all three went for touchdowns as Hays captured the Western Athletic Conference championship outright, beating the Panthers 31-13.
“They had some big plays in the passing game and that’s going to happen, when you’re as good as they are running the football,” Great Bend head coach Bo Black said. “Their quarterback (Delton) was very capable, getting it to their weapons, whether it be split out or coming out of the backfield.
“I thought our defense played well all night, and they hit us with some big plays. The bottom line is that we got beat by a really good football team and we didn’t play good enough to win. We didn’t eliminate the mistakes, knowing that we’d have to eliminate going into it.”
In the first of three Class 5A District 7 games for both teams, Hays improved to 6-1 overall, 1-0 in district play and finishing 4-0 in the WAC.
Delton threw a 33-yard scoring pass to wide receiver Adam Deterding and also had 40- and 54-yard TD passes to supremely talented running back David Cardinal, coming out of the backfield.
Great Bend, which was in contention until Cardinal’s fourth-quarter TD run with 5:40 remaining, falls to 5-2, 2-2 and 0-1.
“When you win in this game, there’s a lot of lessons to be learned,” Black said, “and there’s just as many valuable lessons that you can learn when you lose ... and the big one is when you get knocked down, you’ve got to be able to get back up.
“We have to move forward from here. It’s a must-win from here on out.”
The Panthers travel to play at Salina Central next Friday night at Salina District Stadium for their second district game. Hays, meanwhile, hosts Salina South, with the winner of that game emerging in the driver’s seat.
South beat Central 23-20 in overtime.
The start of the game, the beginning of the second quarter and the end of the first half worked against the Panthers as they fell behind 18-7 at halftime.
Memorial Stadium exploded when the Panthers’ Bryce Hofmeister returned the opening kickoff 88 yards for an apparent touchdown. But the return was called back because of a blocking-in-the-back penalty near midfield.
“We had a lot of penalties, again, and some of them were very questionable,” Black said of his team’s six penalties for 65 yards. “We just didn’t make plays when we needed to.”
After GBHS proceeded to go three-and-out, Hays marched 66 yards on nine plays for a 6-0 lead at the 8:39 mark after Emilio Mitchell scored on a 5-yard touchdown run. Kicker Lane Clark missed the extra-point kick, the first of three failed conversions after Indians scores in the opening half.
After the Panthers lost a fumble on the opening play of their next drive, Delton hooked up with Deterding on a play-action pass for Hays’ second score, making it 12-0 at the 10:14 mark in the second quarter.
Great Bend closed to 12-7 on running back Jonathan Allende’s 2-yard touchdown run at the 4:11 mark. Mario Espino booted the extra point.
But Hays answered with Cardinal’s 40-yard catch-and-run with 10.4 seconds left in the half, giving the Indians their 11-point lead and momentum going into the intermission.
“I thought it should have been 12-7,” Black said. “(Hays) put a 90-yard drive together and that was a huge momentum swing going into halftime.”
Cardinal’s second catch-and-run for a score in the third quarter stretched the lead to 25-7, before Great Bend’s Bryce Beck had a 21-yard touchdown run, diving and hitting the pylon on the left corner of the end zone, pulling the Panthers within 25-13.
Great Bend got the ball back when Panthers defensive tackle Jayce Brack recovered a Delton fumble at the Hays 35 with 3:52 left in the third quarter.
But Hofmeister fumbled the ball away at the end of a 6-yard gain at the Hays 12-yard line, and the Indians took the momentum back for good.
“I felt like we played pretty good most of the night,” Black said. “We were in the right situations, at times, and had some momentum swings going, and we were in the game until the fourth quarter.”
GBHS running back Josh Lopez rushed for 126 yards, including several bruising runs he turned into big gainers.
But Lopez also had a long run deep into Indians territory called back because of a penalty, a microcosm of the Panthers’ misfortune.
HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL
Western Athletic Conference
Class 5A District 7
At Great Bend
Hays 31, Great Bend 13
Hays 6 12 7 6 — 31
GBHS 0 7 6 0 — 13
Hays — Emilio Mitchell 5 run (kick failed), 8:39
Hays — Adam Deterding 33 pass from Alex Delton (pass failed), 10:14
Great Bend — Jonathan Allende 2 run (Mario Espino kick), 4:11
Hays — David Cardinal 40 pass from Delton (run failed), 10.4
Hays — Cardinal 54 pass from Delton (Lane Clark kick), 6:11
Great Bend — Bryce Beck 21 run (kick blocked), 5:21
Hays — Cardinal 27 run (run failed), 5:40
First Downs 19 13
Total Net Yards 403 292
Rushes-yards 56-275 35-199
Passing 128 93
Comp-Att-Int 3-7-1 10-24-0
Punts-Avg 3-45.7 4-38.8
Fumbles-Lost 2-1 2-2
Penalties-Yards 6-70 6-65
RUSHING — Hays, Cardinal 35-168, Delton 12-72, Weigel 6-24, Mitchell 2-10, Pitcock 1-1; Great Bend, Josh Lopez 13-126, Bryce Beck 8-25, Jonathan Allende 7-23, Matt Marshall 3-25, Brock Ibarra 2-8, Bryce Hofmeister 1-6.
PASSING — Hays, Delton 3-7-1 128; Great Bend: Marshall 7-21-79, Beck 3-3-15.
RECEIVING — Hays, Cardinal 2-65, Deterding 1-33; Great Bend, Allende 3-34, Johnson 2-25, Hofmeister 2-18, Lopez 1-8, Reynolds 1-7, Ibarra 1-1.
Hunter Harrison, 16 tackles; Greg Burley, 14 tackles; Hofmeister, 11 tackles; Michael Haines, 9 tackles 1 tackle for loss; Henderson, 8 tackles; Touslee 7 tackles, 1 tackle for loss; Brack 7 tackles, 1 fumble recovery; Chris Burley 6 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 interception; Ryan Zecha, 5 tackles.
Class 5A District 7
Hays 31, Great Bend 13
Salina South 23, Salina Central 20 (OT)