Methodical offense, paired with a smothering defense, carried the Hays Rebels to an emotional 35-13 district opening win Thursday over the Anderson Trojans at Nelson Field.
But amid the postgame revelry came the realization that sports can sometimes take a back seat to everyday life. Getting a chance to honor Hays junior running back Jake Jackson, who on Friday began chemotherapy to battle a form of bone cancer, meant just a little bit more than what happened on the scoreboard.
“It is on our minds and it puts it in perspective,” Hays head coach Les Goad said. “But it’s satisfying to know if this is the last time he (Jake) gets to be a part of (football) for a little while, he’ll have winning memories before going through the process to battle this thing.”
Aiding that cause were Anderson High fans, coaches, players and teammates, who joined Hays fans, coaches and athletes in donning green garb to honor Jackson. Both sides had a balloon release prior to the start of the contest.
Once the mood returned to football, Anderson gained an early 6-0 first quarter lead via a 27-yard pass from quarterback Carsten Groos to wide receiver Grose Kiel.
Hays battled back in the second frame by methodically tallying 14 unanswered points to close the half with a 14-6 lead. The onslaught continued into the third frame when Hays scored another 14 unanswered points to build a 28-6 lead.
Rebel quarterback Durand Hill, who scored three total touchdowns in the game, cited stronger offensive line play and execution as factors for the offensive success in the final three-plus quarters.
Hays’ Slot-T offense was a common thread in all four drives as the Rebels slowed the tempo and kept the ball out of Anderson’s hands. Three of Hays’ five drives lasted more than four minutes in length.
Leading the Rebel offense was running back Xavier Green, who rushed for 165 yards and a touchdown. Hays amassed 365 yards on the ground, 149 of those yards gained in the second quarter alone.
“It’s a chess game, trying to figure out what they’re doing and how they’re doing it and how we can adjust,” Goad said. “I did feel like we made some decent adjustments. But part of that is playing harder and locking on blocks.”
Conversely, Hays’ defense stiffened and forced Anderson to two turnover on downs in its final six drives of the contest, along with forcing two turnovers in the second half, recovered by McCaleb Bialeszewski.
Goad said Hays’ followed a “bend but don’t break” approach. While there are things to improve on, the ability for the defense to come through and limit Anderson’s explosive offense in the clutch was key.
Groos went 14 of 32 passing for 140 yards and two touchdowns, both thrown to Kiel.
“The defense did step up and made those big plays,” Goad said. “I’m so proud that they were able to make those plays at the right time.”
For players, getting the win for their teammate was a meaningful experience. Starting off with a win in district play was equally important as they prepare for Bowie Friday.
“It feels great. First district win. We need to keep the momentum going against Bowie,” Hill said.
Hays hosts Bowie Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Shelton Stadium.