By JASON GORDON
The last time Hays faced an athlete as talented as Leander’s Caleb Woodward he wound up the Heisman Trophy favorite two years later.
Woodward rushed for 264 yards, passed for 104 more and caught a 27-yard touchdown pass for good measure as the Lions cruised to a 60-36 win over the Rebels in the area round of the Class 4A Division I playoffs at Round Rock ISD Stadium on Saturday.
Woodward’s performance brought back memories of current Texas A&M star Johnny Manziel, who had seven total touchdowns for Tivy as the Antlers knocked the Rebs out of the playoffs in the bi-district round in 2010.
A Hays defense that had success against almost everyone they’ve come up against this season had no answer for Leander’s talented quarterback, who’s headed to Texas Tech to play either wide receiver or defensive back next season.
“Woodward was unbelievable,” Hays head coach Blake Feldt said. “They are by far the most athletic team we’ve played all year and obviously he’s their best athlete.”
Woodward even continues to impress his own teammates.
“He’s the best I’ve ever seen,” said Leander backup quarterback Brandon Hopp. “I haven’t seen anything that he can’t do on a football field yet.”
Leander head coach Clint Harper has his Lions (11-1) thinking state title.
“We’ve got four more to go!,” Harper shouted as his team surrounded him after the game.
Not only did Woodward get the Lions off to a blazing start, Hays was running an offense with a bag full of holiday gifts for Leander.
Woodward gave the Lions a 7-0 lead less than two minutes into the game with a 44-yard touchdown run. Tevin Smith followed by picking off a Caleb Kimbro pass and returning it 35 yards for another score to make it 14-0.
Kimbro found Taven Mayberry with a 43-yard scoring pass to temporarily stop the Lions’ charge, but Woodward’s 51-yard pass to Darrell Cleveland set up Hopp’s 9-yard touchdown pass to Cleveland to make it 20-7 less than five minutes into the game.
Leander linebacker Hayden Newsom tipped a Kimbro pass on Hays’ next offensive possession and Martin Nwakama intercepted it for the Lions and strolled into the end zone for another score.
Woodward’s 34-yard run led the way to Leander’s next touchdown, a Darian McClatcher 8-yard run on a fake reverse and incredibly the Lions led 33-7 at the end of the first quarter.
“Not only is that the worst start I’ve ever seen any of my teams have, it may be the worst start I’ve ever seen any team anywhere get off to,” Fledt said. “You’re not going to beat one of the best teams in Class 4A going out and giving up the plays we did both defensively and on offense. The turnovers in the first half just killed us.”
Hays tried to rally and looked like it was going to slice into Leander’s lead right before halftime but another turnover, this time a Marco Solis fumble at the Lions’ 19-yard line, left the Rebs trailing 40-14 at the break.
Leander was able to exploit every Hays weakness. Twice on third-and-long plays, Woodward found a receiver open by more than five yards in the secondary for an easy touchdown. The Rebels didn’t stop Leander on a third down play until late in the third quarter.
“It was something we definitely didn’t expect,” Hays cornerback Jared Rodriguez said. “They got ahead so quick and we just couldn’t catch up.”
The Rebs didn’t quit, as Kimbro scored on touchdown runs of 12 and 54 yards in the second half. Kimbro even caught a 7-yard touchdown pass from Granger Studdard, but Leander’s lead was insurmountable at that point.
Woodward capped his impressive day with a 39-yard fourth-quarter touchdown run. He high-stepped his way into the end zone to cement the Lions dominating victory.
Leander moves on to the Class 4A Division I Region IV semifinals. The Lions were ranked No. 1 in Class 4A in the statewide Padilla Poll for most of the regular season and have spent all year in the top 10 of every major Class 4A poll in Texas.
Hays ends the season in the area round for the second straight season. The Rebels became the only football team in school history to win consecutive district titles this year.
Hays has now gone a combined 18-6 under Feldt, who took over the program in the spring of 2011, including 15-3 in the team’s last 18 games. The Rebels were 10-12 overall the previous two seasons combined. The Rebs also won a bi-district playoff game in both 2011 and 2012 and spent some of this season ranked in the top 20 in Class 4A in the Associated Press poll. Before Feldt was hired the last time Hays won a postseason game was 2006 and the last time the Rebs won playoffs games in back-to-back seasons was 1998 and 1999.
“It’s sad for the season to end this way and sad for an incredible senior class to go out like this,” Feldt said. “It hurts right now but I know they can look back on all the positive things they accomplished and be proud. This senior class meant so much to this program.”
Kimbro, the most prolific quarterback in Hays High School history, ended his career with 220 yards passing, 187 yards rushing and five total touchdowns against the Lions.
Woodward and Kimbro combined for 830 yards of total offense between them and 10 total touchdowns. The dynamic duo, clearly two of the top high school quarterbacks in Central Texas, scored the final six touchdowns of the game, including all of the TDs in the second half of the game.
Kimbro finishes his Rebel career with 7,154 total combined rushing and passing yards and 81 total touchdowns.
“Caleb Kimbro had a great career and gave us all he had,” Feldt said. “He played through a lot of injuries and did everything we asked him to. He will obviously be tough to replace, just like a lot of our seniors will be. They accomplished a lot together.”