MAIZE — Given the way Hays High played in the first half of Friday's playoff game at Maize South, the Indians had reason to be brimming with confidence entering halftime.
But the mood had changed a bit by the time they exited the locker room.
Trailing 14-10, the Indians received bad news during the break when sophomore quarterback Dylan Dreiling was ruled out for the second half after suffering an upper-arm injury in the final minute of the second quarter.
Without Dreiling, Hays struggled to gain any offensive traction and Maize South pulled away to hand the Indians a 41-10 loss in the second round of the Class 5A playoffs.
"That's a really good Maize South team, and I don't know if we beat them, but I think we have a chance with Dylan in there," Hays coach Tony Crough said. "... It would have been nice to see what would have happened with Dylan."
Crough said it was deflating for the Indians to learn during the break that Dreiling would be sidelined for the second half.
"That was what was so hard about it," Crough said. "You never want to see a kid get hurt, but when he gets hurt right before half, and we go in and he's told he can't play in the second half and the locker room sees it ... it almost would have been better if he would've got hurt the first play of the second half.
"Regardless, we came out of that locker room with a plan. We just weren't able to execute it at a very good level."
Senior running back Hayden Brown and sophomore Jordan Dale filled in at quarterback in the second half, stepping into an unenviable spot.
"When you're playing a sophomore quarterback, you don't get a chance to rep many other quarterbacks, because he needs so many reps in practice," Crough said. "Jordan came in and battled his butt off. Jordan's a great kid and he's going to be awesome for us in the future. That was an unfair spot for him. And Hayden, he hasn't taken many snaps playing actual quarterback."
Up until Dreiling's injury, the first half was largely encouraging for the upset-minded Indians.
Hays got off a dream start, opening with an eight-play touchdown drive. Dreiling and Brown helped move the Indians down the field on the ground. The Indians fumbled near the goal line but Carson Kieffer pounced on the ball in the end zone for the TD.
"We had struggled a lot during the season early in the game, and to come out and put that good drive together, that was just fantastic for us," Crough said.
Hays came up with a stop on Maize South's first possession but the Mavericks pinned the Indians deep and forced a short punt before tying it up on a 9-yard run by Hunter Niemann with 4:53 left in the first quarter.
The Indians thwarted a Mavericks' red-zone drive after Gaven Haselhorst recovered a fumble on a pitch, but Maize South later grabbed a 14-7 advantage on Colin Shields' 24-yard touchdown pass to Jake Johnson.
HHS junior defensive back Tucker Veach made two of his three interceptions in the first half, with the first pick setting up a 26-yard field goal from Matt Goodale to bring the Indians within four points with 5:51 left in the half.
"Our defense has been carrying us all year," Crough said. "Most of the success, almost all of the success we've had this year is because of our defense. What a great job they've done all year. Tucker with three interceptions tonight. He's been tremendous, and all of those guys have been incredible all year. Almost all of them are back next year and it's going to be fun to watch them grow."'
Hays opened the second half by forcing a three-and-out on defense but started its first possession of the half from the Indians' 1-yard line. Maize South picked off a pass on Hays' second offensive play, and Shields then scored on a 3-yard run on 4th-and-goal.
The Indians finished with fewer than 30 yards of offense in the second half and Maize South took advantage of short fields. The Mavericks (10-0) went up 17 on a 7-yard run by Max Sullivan late in the third and Sullivan scored again on a 13-yard run in the fourth. The Mavericks also had a defensive touchdown when a backward screen was scooped-and-scored by Coleman Koehn.
"We knew we were going to have to play a really good game to play with those guys," Crough said. "That's a good team with good culture around here. We were (playing well) at times, the balloon just deflated at halftime."
Maize South will play host to Maize next week in the 5A quarterfinals while Hays finished 4-6 in its second year under Crough. The Indians beat Goddard-Eisenhower 31-6 last week for their third playoff win in program history.
"Any time you get can another week with a team, that's how you build programs," Crough said. "Very seldom do you see a team that played nine weeks the year before all the sudden play 12 or 13. There are steps you have to go through. This was a step for us making it to week 10. We hoped we'd get there this year. I think we kind of overachieved late and did get there.
"They need to feel the hurt from what this loss felt like," he added. "There was a lot of kids hurt in that locker room. They need to remember that feeling and remember to work hard through the offseason — play other sports, get better, be competitors. Hays High football's here. If we can start making it to one more week, two more weeks (in the playoffs) every year, then I think we're a force to cover."
Crough said his 12-player senior class can take pride in leaving the program better than they found it.
"Last year I think we had 22 juniors, and we told the kids right after last season either buy in or don't play," Crough said. "We ended up making it to 15 or 16 (seniors) in the summer and three or four fell off in the summer. We started the season with 11 seniors and then pulled Matt Goodale on for 12.
"Those guys are incredible. They made this program better than the way they started with it. They're just great program kids with awesome work ethics. They're going to be successful in whatever they do in the future."