Hays Rebel senior linebacker Dominic Johnson couldn’t contain his emotions as he commiserated with teammates under the lights at Comalander Stadium in San Antonio Friday.
Tears, hugs and frustrations all stemmed from a heartbreaking 26-25 hard-luck bidistrict playoff round loss at the hands of the San Antonio Reagan Rattlers. The loss, in essence, was a microcosm of a 2017 Rebel campaign chock full of moral victories.
But amid the sadness of a season that ended a little sooner than expected, Johnson and other seniors also realized the impact of their accomplishments. Being the first group of Rebels to reach the postseason at the 6A level, while also breaking a four-year postseason drought, could be the springboard for a program on the rise.
“The past four years, we haven’t gone to the playoffs and we changed that,” Johnson said. “I was proud of our guys and our team. I’m thankful I was a part of it.”
Rebel senior Gentry Brawith said reaching the postseason, which was the program’s first trip since 2014, was the culmination of a mentality they have had since spring practices.
Brawith said the senior class aimed to be the “new tradition and the new culture.” He said the seniors saw themselves as the “dream team” and he felt they were in some respects.
Neal LaHue, Hays High head football coach, said the seniors’ ability to earn a playoff berth helped to cement their legacy in program history.
“It’s nice to be back in the playoffs, but I think they have that legacy to them,” LaHue said. “They got Hays back into the playoffs. Now it’s up to the underclassmen to carry that on and maybe we can get back here.”
Hays entered Friday’s playoff game against a Rattler opponent they had played earlier in the season. LaHue said players prepared well for the game, and he felt the Rebels had a good game plan entering the contest.
That game plan was enacted early in the first quarter as Hays used a methodical 12-play drive, capped off with a short touchdown run by quarterback Xavier Martinez, that gave the Rebels a 7-0 lead.
Following a Rattler touchdown pass, Hays responded by tallying 15 unanswered points, highlighted by a nine-yard touchdown run from senior running back Cade Powell. Hays led 22-7 midway in the second frame and had control of momentum.
But the spark that made the Rebel offense go flamed out. Reagan’s offense, led by a high-flying passing attack, took root and imposed its will on the Rebels.
Leading the way was Rattler quarterback Travis Sthele who finished the game by going 13 of 22 for 287 yards and three touchdowns and one interception. Helping was an array of wide receivers that Rebel defenders struggled to keep up with.
Reagan closed the first half by outscoring Hays 13-3, and cut into the Rebel lead at 25-20 at halftime.
The Rattlers dealt its deathblow early in the third frame by going on a 10-play, five-minute drive consisting of several critical plays by Reagan wide receivers.
A short touchdown run by Sthele gave Reagan a 26-25 lead. Johnson said bringing down Rattler wide receivers, primarily Fox, was a challenge. Fox caught seven passes for 162 yards and one score.
But the Rattlers couldn’t find much success the rest of the way. LaHue said applying more pressure on Sthele helped stop Reagan’s offense in the fourth frame.
“We knew they were good and they would run the ball well,” Johnson said. “We knew they were going to pass against us. That’s what everyone has been doing. So we were gearing up to stop the passes and big plays.”
Hays’ offense couldn’t find its mojo in the final moments either. Hays had three possessions in the final quarter, but all three ended in turnover on downs.
LaHue said the Rebels were unable to make critical adjustments after halftime.
“We shouldn’t have had much second half adjustments, but they were stopping what we were doing,” LaHue said.
For Brawith, sharing the field with his fellow seniors for the last time was an overwhelming experience.
“We’re a family, we’re brothers and we love each other more than anything,” Brawith said.