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Garden City takes WAC lead after thriller in Hays

Published: Sep. 24, 2021 at 11:13 PM CDT
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HAYS, Kan. (Catch it Kansas) - All eyes this season have been on Jaren Kanak and the Hays Indians, who entered Friday’s Western Athletic Conference game already with a pair of league wins.

But Garden City had already strung together a pair of impressive wins after winning just five games over the past two seasons. In a back-and-forth game all evening, the Buffs used a pair of giant penalties and an even bigger defensive hold to stave off the Indians 27-21.

“The guts of these kids,” said Garden City coach Brian Hill. “I’ve said from the start of summer time that I have kids who have taken lumps for two years. We had to force them to play varsity football when they shouldn’t have been. They’ve stayed with me and I just couldn’t be more proud of the way they played tonight.”

The teams hit the half tied at 14. Both offenses went nowhere on two possessions to open the second half. Kanak pinned the Buffs inside their own 5-yard line late in the third quarter. Then junior quarterback Caleb Wiese found junior Jerry Arteaga over the middle. Arteaga did the dirty work, outrunning the Indian defense for the 96-yard touchdown and a 21-14 lead.

Hays could not take advantage of a short field on its next drive, but the Indians again found themselves on the short side of the 50 after another Buff punt. This time senior running back Roy Moroni was able to get in from 1 yard out to level the score at 21 with 8:18 remaining.

Garden City had three three-and-out possessions and the big home run play on its four drives of the second half. Yet the Buffs strung together a big drive, using a pass interference call on third down and a fourth-and-five completion from Wiese to senior Caleb Metzen to keep the drive alive.

Still the drive stalled inside the 5-yard line and Garden City opted for a field goal attempt. That kick missed but the Buffs were granted another set of downs on a roughing-the-kicker call.

Hays had burned all of its timeouts trying to stop Garden City. With a touchdown looming, the Indians let junior Colin Kleysteuber run in from a yard out with 2:05 to play.

“We figured they were going to let us score because they were out of timeouts,” Hill said. “Now we just had to rely on our defense and I’m more than happy to do that this year.”

Hays stayed alive on an early fourth-down conversion before Kanak was sidelined with cramps. Two plays later, Wiese picked off a Jordan Dale pass to seal the victory.

Garden City opened scoring after a long drive in the first half. Kleysteuber appeared to be stopped before the goalline but was awarded the short touchdown for a 7-0 lead.

Kanak answered the score with his own 15-yard touchdown run to even the score at seven. Hays took the lead on a 67-yard completion from Kanak to Bryce Salmans. The Buffs used a 34-yard halfback pass from Emmanuel Charite to Cooper Ramsey to tied the game at 14 prior to the half.

Kleysteuber proved to be the workhorse all night with 95 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries. Wiese was big in the second half with 119 yards and a touchdown on 2-of-4 passing.

After rushing for 446 yards and throwing for another 349 yards in his first three games, Kanak was held to just 77 net yards on 20 carries Friday. He threw for 162 yards and a score on 5-of-9 passing. Moroni rushed for 211 yards in week three against Liberal but was kept in check Friday with 64 yards on 17 attempts.

“You’re going to give up yards to kids like that and we knew that,” said Hill. “But I thought our kids made plays when we needed to. We got off the field on some key stops. We had some key plays, especially late, that I thought made the biggest difference.”

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