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HHS vs. Central for playoff spot

10/31/2013

By AUSTIN COLBERT

acolbert@dailynews.net

On paper, the Hays High School football team can be seen as a considerable favorite over Salina Central when the teams meet at 7 p.m. Friday at Lewis Field Stadium.

The Indians are 6-2, while Central is 3-5. Hays High is at home, on senior night, and has played two of its best games during the last two weeks. But none of this comforts the players, who have spent plenty of time this week watching highlights of a team that is much better than its record indicates.

"I think our kids can see it on film," Hays High coach Ryan Cornelsen said. "I don't think there is any doubt they know. Film doesn't lie and they've watched enough film to know (Central) is pretty good."

For both teams, this week's game is the start of their playoffs. With Salina South (6-2, 2-0 district) already clinching Class 5A, District 7, and with Great Bend eliminated (4-4, 0-2 district), Friday's game will decide the final playoff spot.

Both team's are 1-1 in the district, each with a loss to Salina South and a win over Great Bend. The winner moves on to the playoffs, while the loser's season will end.

"I want it very bad," Hays High senior running back Preston Weigel said about getting back to the playoffs. "It's just crazy to think that this is my last year of high school football. It all goes very fast. I remember my dad always saying, 'Enjoy it because it goes freaking fast.' And I've enjoyed it a lot and we are going to have to play hard and win this."

The Indian seniors are looking to do something no other senior class has done before -- make it to the state playoffs three years in a row. Last season was the first time Hays High had ever made it back-to-back years, so a third straight trip is unheard of.

But with no less than seven wins in any of the previous four years under Cornelsen, there has been a shift in this thinking. Winning has brought expectations, and they are getting higher with each passing season.

"We have built the program where 6-3 and not making the playoffs would be a disappointment. It would be considered a failure," Cornelsen said. "When we took the job four years ago I don't feel that was the case. I know our program is headed in the right direction. The expectation is that we make it in and play well each game. For our kids, they will be ready and understand that's the expectation now."

Salina Central and Hays High met last season in an identical situation, with the Indians coming away with a 15-9 victory to advance to the state playoffs. Cornelsen said both teams played "extremely tight" last season with the stakes so high. They expect another "dogfight" this year and are well aware of how good Central is.

While Central does have five losses, most have come against teams that are capable of making deep runs in the state playoffs this season. Central has lost to perennial superpower Hutchinson (4-4), Class 6A's top-ranked team in Derby (7-1), Maize (7-1, with its only loss being to Derby), and to Salina South. The fifth loss came in Week 2 at the hands of Newton, which is 5-3 and has already clinched a playoff berth.

Central is led by highly touted senior quarterback J.W. Maldaner. Maldaner recently received an invitation to play in the Blue-Grey All-American game in December at AT&T Stadium in Dallas.

Maldaner is known mostly for his running ability, and is second on the team with 879 rushing yards. Senior running back Malik Veal is the other major weapon for the Mustangs and has rushed for 888 yards and 15 touchdowns, including a 289-yard performance last week against Great Bend.

Central's size and athleticism is similar to South's, something that gave the Indian defense fits in a 56-34 loss to the Cougars last week.

"We are trying to correct all of our mistakes and keep that from happening again," senior nose tackle Cristobal Guzman said. "(We need to) get a pass rush going by the D-line, do our job and get some pressure on the quarterback and maybe cause some turnovers."

Another important game for Hays High this week is Dodge City at Garden City, which will decide the WAC champion. The Indians are 3-1 in the conference, while Garden City is 2-1. With the Buffaloes head to head win over Hays High on Sept. 27, Garden City would be the WAC champion with a win over Dodge City. A loss and Hays High will be the WAC champions for a third-straight year.