Hays advances to 5A semifinals with rout of Salina Central

Hays advances to 5A semifinals with rout of Salina Central.
Hays advances to 5A semifinals with rout of Salina Central.(Mike Courson)
Published: Nov. 11, 2022 at 11:20 PM CST
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HAYS, Kan. (Catch it Kansas) - A little freezing weather could not stop the Hays High football team from making some school history in Friday night’s Class 5A quarterfinal game. Neither could the Salina Central defense. For the first time ever, the Indians picked up their 10th win of the season with a 49-12 rout of the Mustangs. Hays entered the game with just one loss to top-ranked Manhattan (6A), and will now travel to top-ranked Maize for the state semifinals.

“It’s just a group of kids that really understands what culture means, really understands what winning looks like,” said Hays coach Tony Crough. “They just stuck to the plan, and they weren’t satisfied with being little brother. They just wanted to be better than last year.”

Hays saw the return of standout junior Malik Bah in the backfield, and Central lost its star running back Kenyon McMillan early. After a mild first half, Bah turned it on in the final two quarters to finish with 217 yards on 21 carries.

“That was a difference maker,” Crough said. “I think we still could have had a really good chance without him. He’s one of the best in the state when he’s healthy. He’s really hard to take down.”

McMillan managed just two yards on two carries on the first Mustang drive of the game. Central later punted against the Hays defense that has now held seven of its 11 opponents to just two touchdowns or fewer this season.

Then the Indian offense was off and rolling. Hays marched 99-and-a-half yards on 16 plays with senior Bryce Salmans capping things off from four yards out. After a Mustang fumble, the Indians needed just seven plays before Bah snuck in from a yard out. The lead grew to 14-0 with 7:23 to play in the first half.

That score lasted through the half but not much longer. Just three plays into the third quarter, Indian senior Kyreese Groen faked out the defense, running 56 yards untouched for an easy score. Hays forced a turnover on downs, taking over on the Central 44-yard line. Groen went untouched again to bump the lead to 28-0.

Central had its best chance of the first half on a 58-yard completion from junior Gunnar Gross to junior Sam Payne. That drive stalled three plays later when Hays senior Evan Lind sacked Gross on fourth down. The Mustangs were again facing fourth down in the third quarter when Gross found Dez Gibson from 10 yards out.

Bah tacked on 9-yard score for Hays, then Lind came up big again with a short pick-six after the Mustangs were pinned at their own 1-yard line. With the score at 42-6 entering the fourth quarter, Mustang junior Elijah Wilson broke a 53-yard run.

Bah was kept in check in the first half with 52 yards on 10 carries. He added 165 yards in the second half to end his night with 217 yards and two touchdowns with 6:55 remaining in the game. Groen added 118 yards and three scores on his 15 carries.

After running wild against Great Bend a week earlier, the Mustangs barely reached the century mark against the Indians. Wilson finished with 74 yards on six carries, but 58 of those yards came on one run. Gross rushed for 30 yards on 24 attempts, and threw for 139 yards on 12-of-34 passing with an interception.

“Our defense is awesome, that’s all there is to it,” Crough said. “Our defense is really tough. We’re going to really find out next week. We’ve got a great defense and it’s always fun to watch them come out here and stuff them. That was a really good Salina Central offense.”

Salina Central ends its season at 8-3. Hays takes a 10-1 record to unbeaten Maize next Friday.