A victim of a well-executed hook and ladder, four turnovers and two missed extra points, Hays High saw a bid for a huge win turn into a gut-wrenching homecoming loss on Friday against Dodge City.
Hays High appeared well on its way to evening its record at 3-3, leading 20-0 at halftime and 33-14 early in the fourth quarter.
But Dodge City scored three fourth-quarter touchdowns and Hays came up empty on two chances to put together a game-winning drive in the closing minutes, falling 34-33 to the Red Demons at Lewis Field Stadium.
Dodge City scored the game-winning touchdown after John Johnson caught a short pass and pitched it back to Jaiel Johnson, who took it down the sideline for a 65-yard touchdown. Dodge tacked on the extra point to go up a point with 3:34 left.
While the hook and ladder might have been freshest play in the Indians’ minds, Hays High coach Tony Crough said several other missed opportunities stood out.
“We missed two extra points and (had a bad snap on a field goal try). It was just things like that,” Crough said. “If we just make our extra points we win. Those are things that drive you crazy, all the mistakes. If we just clean half of those up, we win that game.”
The Indians (2-4, 1-3 Western Athletic Conference) had a firm grip on the game early in the fourth quarter after Hayden Brown took a screen pass 48 yards for a touchdown to make it 33-14 with 11:47 left.
But Dodge City answered a minute and 11 seconds later on a 16-yard touchdown catch to John Johnson from Beau Foster, who helped ignite the Red Demon offense after taking over at quarterback late in the second quarter.
Foster then brought the Red Demons within six with 7:32 left on a 10-yard touchdown run.
Hays wiped out some clock and took it to the Dodge City 39 on the ensuing possession before punting. The Red Demons then hit the Indians with the hook and ladder.
Ironically, Crough said the Indians had called a hook and ladder of their own late in the first half but were unable to execute it.
“It was a great play,” Crough said of Dodge City’s game-winning score. “Any time you run that play and teams are on their heels, it’s got a good chance to pop. I thought he stepped out of bounds but apparently he didn’t and went the distance.”
Hays High came out firing through the air with senior quarterback Palmer Hutchison. He found a wide-open Brown for an 8-yard score on Hays’ first possession and hit Mason Ibarra for a 64-yard touchdown early in the second quarter to make it 13-0.
Hutchison also picked off Dodge starting quarterback late in the second quarter and returned it 50 yards for a touchdown to put the Indians up 20-0.
Hutchison threw for 284 yards yards on 15-of-30 passing with three touchdowns and two interceptions. Will Sennett caught nine passes for 130 yards and Brown had five grabs for 90 yards with two touchdowns and also rushed for 107 yards on 15 carries.
“We just knew that we had to push the ball down the field more,” Crough said. “We pushed the ball down the field in previous games, we just hadn’t been successful with it. It was an emphasis to try and stretch teams vertically. We made some nice throws and nice catches early.”
Dodge, utilizing an up-tempo offense, got on the board early in the third quarter on a 7-yard touchdown pass to John Johnson from Foster. The Red Demons then capitalized on a Hays High fumble and cashed in with a 3-yard score to Jaiel Johnson to make it 20-14 with 6:28 left in the third.
Hays fought back to make it a three-score game again after a two-yard run from Hutchison and the screen to Brown on the first play of the fourth quarter.
“I thought we did a great job of answering when it was 20-14,” Crough said. “And then I thought we did a terrible job after that. I thought we just really relaxed. We took our foot off the gas when it was 33-14, coaching staff and everyone, starting with me. You can’t do that against a good program.”
After the hook and ladder, Hays gave the ball back at their own 44 with 2:19 left after Hutchison fumbled. The Indians got a stop and had the ball at their own 20 with with 1:18 remaining but the drive ended in their own territory after a pass on fourth-and-4 fell incomplete.
Three of the Indians’ four losses have been by single digits. They will look to regroup against Buhler on Thursday night in Hays.
“There’s a lot of hurt kids in that locker room and they don’t understand us telling them what they did wrong right now,” Crough said. “We’re just trying to lick our wounds. We’ll watch the film tomorrow and see what we can do better.”