HAYS — When senior starting quarterback Jackson Kavanagh went down with an injury to his throwing shoulder on Salina Central’s first series in Friday night’s game against Hays High, the Mustangs turned to their ground game behind their big offensive line.
Senior running back Cooper Chard, who had 406 yards on the ground for the season going into Friday night’s game, rushed for 186 yards and three touchdowns as Salina Central pulled away in the second half for a 35-3 win at Lewis Field Stadium.
“With Jackson going out the first series, it definitely helped to run the football,” Salina Central coach Mark Sandbo said.
Hays High (3-5) could not capitalize on scoring opportunities in the first half but still trailed just 14-3 going into halftime. Hays High took the opening kickoff and drove to the Salina Central 19 before fumbling the ball away. Chard eventually scored on a 5-yard run after the turnover to give the visitors a 7-0 lead. The Indians were stopped at the Mustang 14 on their next possession and settled for a 32-yard field goal from senior Matt Goodale.
After Hays High lost a fumble deep in its own territory late in the first half, Salina Central (5-3) made it 14-3 on a 4-yard pass from sophomore backup QB Parker Kavanagh — Jackson’s younger brother — to senior wideout Logan Heigele, who went in motion in the backfield, took the toss from Kavanagh and found room around right end into the end zone.
“I thought he did a really good job,” Sandbo said of his backup signal-caller. “I think our offensive line and our senior leadership at the wide receiver position really helped him.”
Hays High coach Tony Crough was lamenting the Indians’ mistakes.
“If we don’t turn the ball over in the first half and have all those crazy penalties, we probably got the lead or it’s 7-7, 10-7, at halftime," Crough said.
Penalties and turnovers continued to hurt the Indians after halftime, and the Mustangs churned out big chunks of yards with Chard adding a pair of 3-yard scoring runs in the second half. The youthful Indians also had their depth tested after 18 players missed practice time during the week due to illness.
“Youth and sickness are a bunch of excuses we like to make, but the truth is if we don’t turn the ball over and have penalties we’re probably right in the game,” Crough said.
Hays High sophomore quarterback Dylan Dreiling threw three interceptions in the second half, including one returned 15 yards for a TD by junior defensive back Dakota Hogan.
Senior Hayden Brown’s 150 yards rushing led the Indians on Senior Night.
The Indians are the No. 10 seed in the Class 5A west playoff bracket and will travel to No. 7-seeded Goddard-Eisenhower in the first round next week.
“Hayden ran real hard, played spirited,” Crough said of Brown, one of 11 Indian seniors. “They bought in, they care. I feel bad we didn’t have more older guys to put around them, but they’re great kids.”