The stands at Monroe Stadium in Leander were emptying when the Hays Rebel football team began paying tribute to its senior class Friday.
Even as stadium officials were starting to clear the field, the Rebel seniors got their chance to shake hands, and maybe shed a tear or two, with coaches, teammates and parents.
It was all done with the knowledge that Hays’ slim playoff hopes had ended following a gut-wrenching 27-16 loss to the Vandegrift Vipers.
While there was disappointment in missing the postseason, Hays High head coach Neal LaHue lauded the team’s the ability to prove themselves during a challenging campaign.
“This is a special group of young men. They stuck together as a team, the underclassmen and older kids,” LaHue said. “They’ve been through a lot. A lot of people doubted them and they hung together.”
Defense led the way in the early going as both teams were scoreless after the first quarter.
Hays’ defense regularly applied pressure to Vandegrift quarterback Alex Fernandes, who was forced to move out of the pocket to make plays.
Both linebacker Damion Fiscal and defensive back Hector Fuentes said the game plan was placing pressure.
“We wanted to get pressure on the quarterback,” Hays defensive lineman Emmanuel Galvan-Vasquez said. “If we did that, we felt everything would fall out. We put pressure on the run and the pass game.”
Vandegrift, however, struck first by tallying a field goal early in the second quarter to take a 3-0 lead. The Vipers capitalized on a Rebel fumble on the ensuing drive, with Fernandes tossing a 47-yard touchdown to Justin Florence to give the Vipers a 10-0 lead.
On offense, Hays struggled with consistency in the run game against a stiff Vandegrift team.
LaHue said on film the Vipers had a formidable eight man front, but he felt the team could run the ball.
Rebel junior running back Cade Powell said penetration by the Viper defensive line proved to be a difficult challenge.
While the Rebel run offense struggled, the Rebel passing game thrived. Led by quarterback Tyler Conley, Hays orchestrated a late first half drive, which led to a field goal by Tyler Lewis to cut Vandegrift’s lead at 10-3 at halftime.
But the Rebels couldn’t halt Fernandes and the Viper offense, which was aided by running backs Mack Parker and Isiah Smallwood.
A 21-yard touchdown run by Parker gave the Vipers a 17-3 lead early in the third frame.
The Rebels orchestrated a response in the fourth quarter by capitalizing on an interception. A 17-yard touchdown pass from Conley to wide receiver Marquis Howard cut the Vandegrift lead to 17-9 after a missed extra point.
Vandegrift, however, maintained consistency on offense with Fernandes, Parker and Smallwood. The Vipers outscored Hays 10-7 in the final minutes of the contest.
While the season didn’t end as the seniors had hoped, Galvan-Vasquez felt the Rebels “made a statement” in the district.
“We made a statement that we could compete in this district,” Galvan-Vasquez said. “We did that this year. We got the respect from some other teams, too.”
See more photos from the game here. (photos by Moses Leos III)