By Moses Leos III
Suppressing a high-powered Westlake Chaparral offense was a struggle for the Hays Rebels (3-5, 3-3) in a 49-7 defeat Friday at Chaparral Stadium.
Friday’s loss, which was the team’s second straight, places the Rebels on the precipice of missing the postseason for the first time since 2007.
But more damaging is the possible loss of running back Cody Gandy due to injury. The Rebels may be without their leading rusher in a must-win game against Bowie on Thursday, but there was no official word on his condition as of press time.
Westlake’s offense asserted their dominance midway through the first quarter. After stumbling on their first drive, Westlake tallied 35 unanswered points over their next five series in the first half.
The Chaps began with a 30-yard strike from quarterback Sam Ehlinger to wide receiver Andrew Laycock.
Westlake followed by stringing together 28 more points, taking a 35-0 halftime lead.
Laycock, who caught two touchdown passes in the first half, led all receivers with 160 yards and two scores.
Hays couldn’t pin down Ehlinger, who picked apart the Rebel defense. It was paired with Westlake’s wide receivers, who made several key receptions to maintain drives.
It allowed the Chaps to efficiently maneuver the ball. Westlake needed no more than five plays to complete their scoring drives in the first half.
Ehlinger finished with 294 passing yards and four scores; he also added a rushing touchdown.
Hays High defensive back Da’Quanta Crayton said the team did its best to give the offense a chance to respond.
“We were trying to get a stop, trying to get a three and out and get off the field,” Crayton said. “We tried our best. We gave it our all.”
While the Rebel defense was on its heels, the Hays offense couldn’t find its rhythm.
Limited by a fast and physical Westlake defensive front, Hays strived to gain momentum with limited results.
Hays gained 114 yards of offense in the first 24 minutes, 19 of those yards on the ground. The Rebels amassed 232 total yards in the game, with only nine rushing yards.
The Rebel offense attempted to find balance in the early going, according to Hays head coach Neal LaHue and quarterback Braeden Kent.
But Westlake’s defense, led by Hudson Hall and Breckyn Hager, routinely clogged run lanes, which stymied progress.
With the inability to run, and a growing deficit, Hays was forced to throw the ball more often.
Hastening that decision was a leg injury suffered by Gandy late in the second quarter. Gandy did not return to the game, finishing with -1 yards.
Kent went 21 of 36 for 223 yards and a touchdown; he was the leading rusher with 14 yards.
“[Westlake was] way more physical than we expected them to be,” Kent said. “They didn’t completely dominate our offensive line, but they brought it to us.”
The Chaps tallied an additional 14 points in the second half before Hays responded late in the fourth quarter.
Hays took advantage of a Westlake special team miscue at the Chaparral 12 yard line. Four plays later, Kent lobbed a nine-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Grayson Rigsby to break up the shutout.
“Our kids fight to the end,” LaHue said. “I’d go to battle with these kids any day.”
Hays avoided being shutout for the first time in five years, but their 42-point loss ties for the largest in program history.
The Rebels will attempt to move forward as they vie for the last playoff spot in 14-6A with two games left.
“It’s just keeping our heads up; to keep that picture [of the playoffs]alive,” Kent said. “We have to put this game behind us and just beat Bowie.”