By BILL PETERSON
Editor at Large
BUDA – Defense hasn’t especially been a trademark of Hays football in recent years, which doesn’t mean the defense can’t win a game now and then.
And after a defensive meltdown last Friday night, the young Hays defense needed to win a game.
“We did some really good work in the last week,” Hays linebacker Justin Heath said Friday night, after the Rebels won their home opener, 34-13, against Anderson at Bob Shelton Stadium. “When you start out 0-1, that next one you have to win.”
So, the Rebels did win, largely due to a defensive effort that held Anderson to 238 total yards while producing five turnovers. The Rebels recovered four Anderson fumbles in the second half – two deep in Anderson territory to set up Hays touchdowns and another deep in Hays territory to prevent an Anderson touchdown.
Considering the Rebels won by three touchdowns, their defensive opportunism could be marked as the difference in the game. Thus, the defense made a more favorable difference than it made a week earlier in Bastrop, when it allowed two touchdowns in the final five minutes and let the Bears to rally for a 34-27 overtime victory.
“The way our defense played tonight was the key,” said Hays Head Coach Bob Shelton, who counted his 297th career victory. “They played well the whole game.”
The Rebels improved their record to 1-1, while Anderson fell to 0-2. Hays avoided its first 0-2 start since 1999.
“It’s a huge confidence builder for us,” Hays running back Billy Gandy said.
The Hays defense gave up one touchdown after a short punt gifted Anderson with a 30-yard field and gave up the other against a two-minute offense at the end of the first half, after Hays threw an interception. Outside of those two possessions, the Hays defense gave up only five first downs.
The Hays defense kept Anderson from threatening after the Hays offense cooled off from an explosive start. The Rebels scored touchdowns on their first three possessions, making it clear that only they could stop themselves in this game. They proved it on their fourth possession, when they started at their 30 and backed themselves up to their five with consecutive penalties for holding, illegal procedure and delay of game.
The Hays offense was never the same after that. Though the Rebels finished with 418 total yards, they couldn’t sustain another touchdown drive. But with the defense all but gift-wrapping two second-half touchdowns, they didn’t have to.
And thanks to that defensive performance, the Rebels really won this game early. On the third play from scrimmage, Hays quarterback Trey Berry pitched to Sam Breyfogle, who completed the flea-flicker pass to Brandon Lawrence for a 44-yard touchdown to give the Rebels a 7-0 lead. From that point, the Rebels always led.
The Rebels gave Anderson only one first down before retaking the ball at their own 26. Then, Berry threw 15 yards to Anthony Pesina, Torrance Smith ran 24 yards and Breyfogle passed 13 yards to Pesina, putting the ball on the Anderson eight. Two plays later, Berry ran four yards for a touchdown to make it 14-0.
Hays forced Anderson then to go three-and-out before taking over at its own 27 after a punt. Again, the Rebels drove without pause, highlighted by Berry’s 30-yard pass to Smith and Breyfogle’s 19-yard pass to Berry. The drive ended with Smith running one yard for a touchdown to make it 21-0 early in the second quarter.
Then came that ill-fated possession of the penalties and the Hays offense sputtered for the rest of the night. After Berry threw an interception to Anderson’s Nate Shaw, the Trojans drove from their own 39 in seven plays, scoring on a seven-yard pass from Sam Wehmeyer to Cameron Gravelle to make it 21-6 at halftime.
Anderson appeared to be fighting its way back into the game off the second-half kickoff when Wehmeyer threw 48 yards to Stanley Kurunwune and P.J. Henderson ran 20 yards, putting the ball on the Hays four. But Wehmeyer fumbled on the next play and Cody Holt recovered for the Rebels.
The Rebels then went on an extended possession keyed by Berry’s 20-yard pass to Ryan Slaughter and Berry’s 20-yard run. The Rebels stalled on fourth down at the Anderson 19, but that turned out to be a temporary problem. Wehmeyer fumbled again three plays later and Jose Carrizales recovered for Hays at the Anderson 22. Two plays later, Gandy went 16 yards for a touchdown to make it 26-6.
Later, a short Hays punt gave Anderson the ball at the Rebels’ 30. Henderson immediately ran the 30 yards for a touchdown to bring the Trojans within 26-13 with 14.8 seconds left in the third quarter. Early in the fourth quarter, though, Henderson fumbled the ball away at his own five and Smith scored a five-yard touchdown run for Hays on the very next play, giving the Rebels their 34-13 lead.
The Rebels shared their wealth offensively, though the star was Gandy, who rushed 11 times for 101 yards. Slowed down by congestion, Gandy took a back seat to Berry and Smith in his varsity debut last week. But his straight-ahead style gives the Rebels a nice counterpoint to Smith’s cutback ability and Berry’s option running.
Berry and Breyfogle shared the passing yardage, if not the snaps, with Berry passing for 89 yards and Breyfogle passing for 83. Berry also rushed for 42 yards.
Again, though, the Rebels made their offensive mistakes, though not nearly so many as a week earlier in Bastrop. The Rebels lost a fumble, threw an interception and took seven penalties for 50 yards.
“They made mistakes, but they made the mistakes at full speed,” Shelton said. “Everything we did wrong can be corrected.”
The process continues next Friday, when the Rebels play Bowie at Burger Stadium. Bowie turned in an impressive performance in its Friday night opener, beating Round Rock, 38-21.