By BILL PETERSON
Editor at Large
Short of consulting the walls at the Hays High School football offices and counting through all the year-by-year results, no one can say exactly how many schools the Hays Rebels have faced on the football fields of Texas in their 41 years. It’s got to be hundreds.
Growing from a school of a couple hundred in 1968 to a school of a couple thousand today, Hays has sprawled all over the University Interscholastic League map. The Rebels have gone to the playoffs pretty consistently for the last 20 years. They’ve played against a lot of schools.
But how many schools that Hays has played at least twice in history can claim that Hays has never beaten them? That’s a very small number.
One school that can say it, though, is Elgin. The Rebels played Elgin in the early days, 1970 and 1971, losing 40-0 the first time, then losing 14-8 the next year. Until the Rebels lost 56-14 to Bowie earlier this season, the 40-0 loss to Elgin tied for the worst beating in Hays football history.
Hays coach Bob Shelton, the program’s only football coach and its tireless historian, laughed at the idea that he should hold up that 40-0 loss from 1970 in front of this year’s team to gin the kids for Friday night’s District 17-4A opener. Who knows? Some of the kids might have grand dads from that 1970 team.
But Shelton certainly wouldn’t mind carving Elgin into his belt, and not just so he can say he’s done it. The Rebels need the win tonight at Elgin (7:30 p.m.) to track themselves for the district championship, as Elgin stands to be one of their toughest competitors.
“They’re a senior team, and they kind of think it’s their year,” Shelton said. “They could be the team to beat. We really won’t know until we play them.”
The Wildcats open tonight’s game on their home field at 4-1 against a Hays team that’s 2-3. But the two teams really can’t be compared based on their non-district schedules.
Elgin’s most impressive performance might have come in its only defeat, a 25-19 loss to Pflugerville Hendrickson, which is 5-1. The Wildcats also can claim a 41-30 win against Giddings, a strong Class 3A team. As those are the last two Elgin games, it might be said that Elgin is playing in mid-season form.
The Rebels live in a slightly different world. If they can’t yet claim a signature win, they’ve lined up against big talent, including their loss to Bowie and, most recently, a 35-24 loss to defending Class 4A Division I state champion Rosenberg Lamar.
The Lamar game showed the Rebels what it’s going to take to advance deep into the Class 4A Region III playoffs. And now that they took last week off between that game and Friday night’s district opener, they’ve been able to digest it.
In many respects, the Rebels were right there with Lamar, except that two early interceptions gave Lamar opportunities to take command. And, against bigger and faster players, the Rebels will have to contain the big play.
“We found out that we can’t afford to make mistakes,” Shelton said. “That’s something that has hurt us, kind of, throughout the year from time to time. And we’ve still got to tackle better. I think it points up what we’ve got to do. We moved the ball, but we didn’t tackle well.”
Of course, it’s a long way on the talent scale from Rosenberg Lamar to Elgin, but Shelton would rather his players not think that way. The Wildcats will make the Hays defense prove it on the line of scrimmage, setting up a rushing attack that averages 220 yards per game.
Leading the balanced attack for Elgin is running back Derrick Falke, who has carried for 251 yards in 43 attempts. Quarterback Tyler Swenson has rushed for 218 yards. Swenson doesn’t throw a lot, only 41 times this year, but he has completed 20 for 362 yards. Elgin ball carriers Kelton McMillan, Kevin Weaver and Jason Hickman have combined for 452 rushing yards.
“They’ve been a very opportunistic team,” Shelton said. “They’ve been able to thrive on other teams’ mistakes, kind of the opposite of what we’ve been doing.”
The Rebels feature a very similar rushing attack, averaging 230.8 yards per game, but it’s concentrated between quarterback Trey Berry (548 yards), Torrance Smith (298 yards) and Billy Gandy (259 yards). Berry and back-up quarterback Sam Breyfogle also give the Rebels considerably more of a passing dimension, combining this year for 654 yards through the air.
Hays fans approach the district season wondering not if the Rebels will make the playoffs, but how good the team will be when the playoffs begin. It’s virtually inconceivable to anyone who follows high school football that Hays won’t qualify for the playoffs by finishing as one of the best four out of six teams in the district.
But Friday night’s game could put Hays on a path the Rebels haven’t followed for quite a while. The Rebels haven’t won a district championship outright since 1998, when they captured District 27-4A with a 4-1 record in the league.Email | Print