August 2, 2010
KEY GAME Hays at Great Bend October 15
For the first time in nine seasons under Bo Black, Great Bend lost in 2009 to Hays, in its first season under Ryan Cornelsen. Great Bend missed out on the WAC championship for the first time since 2002.
There’s more meaning this season: the loser faces an uphill
battle against Salina Central and Salina South for a playoff spot.
The theme in District 6 is “major upheaval.” Former state champion programs in the district find their trophy case in need of an update, and a longtime loser is winning
Can Hays, a surprise winner of seven straight in 2009, possibly be the favorite in a district which includes vaunted football schools Salina Central, Salina South and Great Bend? Five years ago, not a chance, but in 2010, maybe. The giants are meeker.
Salina Central’s streak of 17 consecutive playoff appearances ended last fall; Salina South, though the Cougars did recover to make sectionals, had its head coach resign after Week 3; and Great Bend didn’t win a district game in 2009 for the first time in Bo Black’s nine-year tenure and missed the playoffs for the second consecutive
season, which before 2008 hadn’t happened since 2001, Black’s first season as coach.
So the possibility of Hays winning District 6 isn’t completely absurd, though common sense insists that South, Central and Great Bend will be back in 2010. But Hays is the team on the rise. Under first-year coach Ryan Cornelsen, Hays opened the season 7-0 following a 4-5 2008 campaign. The turnaround can be taken with these grains of
salt: Hutchinson and McPherson combined for over 100 points of offense against Hays in Weeks 8 and 9, extending the Indians’ 14-year absence from the state playoffs.
One thing is for sure – Cornelsen, who lost just three games in three seasons at his previous post, Class 2A LaCrosse, got kids in a losing program to believe, which is always the first step to success. Hays not only had its first winning season since 2005 but broke its nine-game losing streak in district play by beating Great Bend, 20-14, its
first victory over the Panthers in Black’s tenure there, and won the Western Athletic Conference. It was a sensational win, capping a season driven by hard work; Hays forced
five Great Bend turnovers, while the offense ran 58 of 62 plays on the ground.
Hays will not be taken lightly anymore, but their three district opponents are ravenous for the 2010 season to start after their 2009 campaigns left them feeling empty. One could call this the Group Of Death, if football enthusiasts would forgive the World Cup soccer analogy.
While 2009 was an underwhelming year for all but upstart Hays, the other three played in the state game from 2004 to 2006. While Great
Bend was last grouped in district play with Salina South in 2007, they have not been in the same district as Salina Central since 2003. Black’s teams from 2001 to 2003 lost to Central each time, while Great Bend has beaten South in its past two meetings.
Senior quarterback Greg Hildebrand, who had his struggles against Hays, returns for Great Bend. It wasn’t all bad in 2009; Hildebrand gained 299 total yards in a 28-26 rain-soaked win at Wichita Heights in Week 4 and continued the Panthers’ decade-long
win streak over eventual Class 6A quarterfinalist Dodge City in Week 5.
Though it’s possible Hays and Salina South will be the two to make the playoffs, creating a bizarre scenario in which both Salina Central and Great Bend would miss the playoffs again, Salina Central may have the most upside in 2010 of any team in the district, despite coming off their first season with no playoffs since the Bush One Administration.
Preceding yet another debacle against Hutchinson (63-21) in Week 5,
Central beat two eventual 6A sub-state finalists (Derby, Blue Valley); after the Hutch loss, they lost to Salina South by three and Emporia by four. Cale Sharp, twice a 1,000-yard rusher, returns for his senior season.
As for Salina South, shifty and hard-running quarterback Jason Seibel graduated, but the Cougars have a bruising sophomore fullback ready to mature in South’s grinding offense. A 1,000-yard rusher as a freshman, he gained 119 yards against Kapaun in the first round of the 2009 state playoffs. Coach Sam Sellers, who took over mid-season last
fall, has a player to build a powerful offense around. –Tom Witherspoon
Advancing: Salina Central, Salina South