By CONOR NICHOLL
5A: How a brace from California and Mike Leach helped Hays High and Blue Valley Southwest to historic wins
HAYS – Hays High head football coach Tony Crough labeled the last two weeks “dreadful” for Indian junior running back Malik Bah. In Week 9, Bah suffered a significant right elbow injury on Hays High’s first play from scrimmage. Bah went to the hospital.
He missed the next two contests, both historic playoff wins for the Hays High program. Even when he was laying on the turf at FHSU’s Lewis Field Stadium, Bah always believed he would return “10 times stronger.”
The process, though, involved getting the perfect brace from California, an apparatus that arrived in Hays around 24 hours before last Friday’s 5A state quarterfinal home game against Salina Central. Crough gave “all credit” to Dr. Wally Walstrom, a Hays primary sports medicine doctor, and veteran Indian trainer Dylan Moore.
Medical personnel had to make a mold of Bah’s arm, send it to California and clear insurance. The custom-made expensive brace keeps the elbow from hyperextending.
“Gives me better range of motion,” Bah said. “Gives me more power. The other ones that I had, it didn’t fit right. This one is tight, gives me all my motion back. So feels like I have got a whole brand new arm. Man, it’s awesome.”
Crough said the brace was “ready to be made” around a week before Salina Central. Hays High anxiously awaited. The brace was shipped to Hays Medical Center. On Thursday afternoon, Moore went to Hays Med to see if the brace was in. It wasn’t. As soon as Moore was walking out of the building, a vehicle pulled up with Bah’s brace. Bah felt the difference as soon as he put the new brace on.
“It was game time,” he said.
In pregame, Hays High still didn’t know if Bah would play. It marked the first time he was in full pads with that brace. HHS ran him through individual drills, and Crough said “it didn’t look great.” Then, the Indians transition to a normal pregame team drill. Bah took a hit and fell down. The coaching staff held their breath. Bah jumped up and said, “Coach, it feels good.”
“They told all of us when this happened that it was three to four weeks minimum,” Crough said. “There was no way he would be back, and then after his first appointment, he started moving around, and they said, ‘Well, he won’t play Week (10), but it would be a miracle for (Salina Central).’
“And lo and behold, he worked through it hard and got back after it,” Crough added. “And Dylan worked him hard, and took him everywhere, and got that brace in. They kept saying, ‘If the brace comes in, and he’s comfortable with it, he will probably be able to play.”
Bah entered on the Indians’ first drive, a possession that started on its own 1-yard line. One SC penalty and fourteen plays (all runs) later, HHS scored on a four-yard run from bruising H-back/end Bryce Salmans. Bah carried four times, twice for first downs.
“The right one and the right fit for him,” Crough said. “And he looked pretty comfortable with it for the most part.”
Senior dual threat quarterback Kyreese Groen broke a key 25-yard run. Midway through the second quarter, Bah delivered a one-yard scoring TD for a 14-0 lead. Bah finished with 22 carries for 222 yards as Hays High rolled up 463 yards of offense.
“Obviously when he is on the field, he is extremely electric,” SC coach Mark Sandbo said. “…He makes (Groen) that much better.”
The Indians won 49-12 and set or tied multiple school records. HHS, ranked No. 3 in 5A, moved to 10-1 and won double-digit games for the first time in school history.
5A semifinal rematches: “We know we can play with them”
Two hundred and 44 miles east on I-70, Blue Valley Southwest defeated De Soto, 69-35, in a landmark 5A East quarterfinal contest. Southwest moved to 6-5 and reached its first state semifinals in school annals.
Bah, BVSW quarterback Dylan Dunn and Wichita East quarterback DaeOnte Mitchell are considered the state’s best junior skill players.
Dunn set school records with 601 passing yards and eight touchdowns. The offensive line gave the T-Wolves’ time. Junior Tate Everard caught two passes for 163 yards, both for scores. Junior Alex Parks recorded seven catches for 162 yards and two scores. Junior Emmitt Peters had eight catches for 158 yards and a pair of TDs. Senior Sam Swickard hauled in three catches for 88 yards and a pair of scores.
This year, the top-seven receivers have between 14 and 37 catches. Ten players have caught a receiving score. Southwest has rushed for 1,157 yards, the first time the T-Wolves have cleared 1,000 rushing yards for a season in around 10 years. Senior Parker Smith has rushed for 850.
“We have six really good wide receivers,” BVSW coach Anthony Orrick said. “And then obviously Dylan has just been a big, big boost for us. He throws the ball so well, and he is smart. He is a student of the game, so a lot of what is happening right now is kids.”
Southwest rolled up a school record 723 total yards.
“Everything just came together exactly the way we had kind of planned it throughout the week,” Orrick said. “And our offensive coaches, I think they put together a fantastic game plan against what De Soto is showing over the last two or three weeks. It was one of those nights where everything was just clicking, and it’s like you couldn’t miss.”
Orrick and Crough were college teammates at Fort Hays. Both Hays High and Blue Valley Southwest have enjoyed the best season in school history. Southwest runs a 3-3 stack on defense and has multiple two-way starters. Many of the defensive backs are the receivers.
“Our kids, we put a lot on their plate,” Orrick said. “We ask them to do a lot of things from the game plan perspective, know a lot of checks and alignments and things like that. We ask them to do a lot throughout a game, and those kids just embrace it. They love it. They really get what we are asking them to do.”
This Friday, both will face a colossus that each team knows well.
HHS travels to No. 1 Maize (11-0). BVSW is at three-time defending state champion Mill Valley (10-1). At times throughout the year, Southwest has discussed scheme in practice that the T-Wolves hoped would help them against the Jaguars.
“We talk to our kids about Mill Valley is the pinnacle right?,” Orrick said. “That’s where everybody wants to be. You want to be playing them at the end of the season.”
Last year, Hays High lost 48-36 at Maize in the state quarterfinals, a loss that has remained with the Indians.
BVSW fell, 35-7, at Mill Valley in the ’21 quarterfinals. Southwest and Mill Valley also saw each other at 7-on-7 this summer. Southwest played Mill Valley to 14-7 at halftime last year. MV is known for its power run game.
“There were some things that after the game, we wish we probably would have done a little bit differently,” Orrick said. “And so we really worked on those things, and kind of instilled into our defense even going through most of our season.”
Orrick’s main message to his team: Don’t just be happy we are here and have made the state semifinals. We are here for a reason.
“We know we can play with them,” Orrick said. “It’s just can we finish? We talked about that all season long about whether or not we can finish out a game, and we can stay with them for four quarters and not just a half.”
Bah said the Hays High players has talked about Maize since Day 1. Maize has its waves of talent, led by quarterback Avery Johnson and wide receiver Bryce Cohoon. Johnson, the state’s top recruit, is headed to Kansas State.
Last week, Maize defeated Hutchinson, 21-14, and held off the Salthawks from scoring in the final seconds. Once Crough heard the result, he was excited to watch film. Hutchinson has similarities to Hays High. Hutchinson ran 80 plays, Maize 35.
“We have been looking forward to it all year,” HHS senior linebacker Evan Lind said. “I think we are excited for that challenge. I am definitely looking forward to it. They are really good, but we are pretty good, too, though.”
Cohoon is going to Syracuse. Caden Miranda is an elite defensive lineman, and Justin Stephens, Bryson Hayes and Daeshaun Carter are key skill players. MV has the state’s best defense and allowed 5.8 points per game.
“We lost a heartbreaker down there last year,” Crough said. “Man, that’s still ripe in some of our guts. That’s a tall task. … We are going to give it our best. I know the kids definitely think we can, and that’s the biggest part of it.
“We are going to find out,” he added. “But that’s a tall task down there. We have got a lot of work to do, but we are up for the challenge. I mean, at this point, ‘What the heck?’ and it’s going to be fun regardless. I think most people are going to expect us to get beat by them, so we are just going to roll it out there and see what the heck happens.”
Blue Valley Southwest: “He’s the brains”
Orrick coached Spring Hill for six years and is in his eighth year at Southwest. The T-Wolves have never posted a winning record in its school history, though has reached four straight quarterfinals. Southwest plays in the Eastern Kansas League, the state’s toughest conference. SW opened 0-3 and went 1-5 in league play.
Earlier in his coaching career, Orrick was a defensive-minded, control the clock coach. When Orrick first got the job, Southwest was a flexbone option run-heavy team. SW tinkered with throwing from that scheme and then transitioned to the RPO offense.
SW has routinely ranked among the state passing leaders in the last four years. Tanner Curry graduated in 2020 after he threw for 4,395 career yards. Dunn set a school mark with 2,587 yards last season, including a 555-yard passing game.
“We are not blessed with the big offensive linemen at Blue Valley Southwest,” Orrick said. “We needed to throw the ball around a little bit, get in some empty sets and kind of change the narrative a little bit.”
Dunn is at 2,654 yards with 28 scores against seven INTs this year. Brandon Hawks is the offensive coordinator. On Tuesday, the Southwest coaches were in the office and discussed the offense. Southwest has taken bits and pieces from a variety of coaches, clinics, podcasts and books. Southwest has gleaned ideas from Mississippi State coach Mike Leach, and Dub Maddox’s R4 system, among others. Maddox is a well-known high school coach in Oklahoma. Each year, Southwest has tweaked the offense.
“He is the brains behind the whole operation,” Orrick said.
Orrick and Southwest first became aware of Dunn and the junior class when he played quarterback for a youth team in fifth and sixth grade. Southwest has significant athletes in the junior and senior classes, and two big offensive linemen who are three-year starters.
Junior Jason Strickland (6-4, 215) is the left tackle known for his athleticism and feet.
“He is exactly what I think we’ve been missing at the left tackle position the last few years,” Orrick said. “He’s very mobile, athletic, he’s kind of a tall, lanky guy.”
Senior Brett Sawaya (6-3, 235) is a three-year starter at left guard. SW asks him to pull a lot and will move him around at times. Sawaya is a team captain.
“Big heartbeat of our team type guy,” Orrick said.
Sophomore Will Morgan starts at center and known for his snapping ability, communication and intelligence. Junior Brent Gillis (6-0, 270) is at right guard after he played center last fall. Gillis is a team leader and one of the team’s most inspirational players.
“Kind of the anchor of the offensive line,” Orrick said.
Senior Thomas Ippolito starts at right tackle and is one of the best pass blockers BVSW has ever had. Ippolito has played with a broken hand for most of the season. All of them play defensive line, too.
“It’s all kind of just come together,” Orrick said.
Hays High: A sleeping giant
Crough has significant Hays ties through his wife’s family. A Garden City Shrine Bowler and former Fort Hays player, Crough coached in Texas, along with short stints as Great Bend’s head coach, Hutchinson Community College defensive coordinator and Andover head coach. Crough, now in his fifth year at Hays High, always wanted to coach the Indians. He long believed HHS football was a sleeping giant.
“This could explode at any time,” Crough said. “It’s a product of right time, right place, right people doing all the things correctly.”
In the middle of the on-field celebration, Crough received congratulations from former Indian lineman Logan Schulte, a three-sport Indian standout. Crough told Schulte that he was a part of the group that started the turnaround. Schulte recalled Crough kept saying a turnaround was possible. Schulte also said the players didn’t know if they really believed it. HHS went 3-6, 4-6, 5-3, 8-3, 10-1 in Crough’s tenure.
All of Hays High’s defensive starters are seniors, many unheralded. Will Cadoret is among a large group of seniors who saw little to no time on the Indians’ 8-3 team in 2021.
“For these guys to eclipse what happened the last two to three years, with a lot that would say that the roster isn’t as talented – and they are probably right, the high side of the roster may not be as talented – but top to bottom, this (2022) roster is so good,” Crough said. “And these guys play so good together, and it’s just a fun group to root for, because they are just a bunch of guys that want to do it for each other.”
Against SC, senior Keamonie Archie, also in his first year of ever playing football and the Indians’ leading receiver, played cornerback. HHS has first-year defensive coordinator Kip Keeley, a former La Crosse Shrine Bowler who led Chanute’s defense to No. 1 in 4A last fall.
“They are sound,” Sandbo said. “They are really good on the back end. They are physical. I think they owned us in the box. We really liked what we were getting.”
The 2021 team, paced by Top 11 all-state selections Jaren Kanak and Gavin Meyers, became the first Indian squad to reach the quarterfinals since 1995. Cadoret has 12 tackles for loss. Crough compared Cadoret to Gaven Haselhorst, a 2021 graduate and Shrine Bowler known for his tackles for loss. Cadoret, with jet-like speed, causes significant disruptions.
“We call him the human playmaker,” Crough said. “Because when he goes in, he either makes a big play or he causes something crazy to happen. Sometimes he makes a big play for the other team, too, because he is so aggressive.”
Hays High: “It’s just awesome to be back”
Bah continued his remarkable breakout season with his new brace. He has averaged 10.9 yards per carry with 144 rushes for 1,565 yards and 22 rushing scores. Plus, he has nine catches for 189 yards and a pair of TDs, and a team-best 210 return yards.
Senior Teegan Turnbull has 47 extra points, which is a new school mark, per HHS broadcaster Dustin Armbruster. Hays High reached the semifinals for the third time in school history, first since 1993. Hays High is the first Western Athletic Conference team to reach a state semifinal in six years.
“It’s just awesome to back,” Bah said. “Man, that one week out just broke my heart, and I knew had to come back even stronger when I touched the ball.”
Hays High’s defense continued its dominant year, even after an injury to senior defensive lineman Carson Spray, the team’s most experienced player.
“A huge hit to our team when somebody like that who just controls gaps up front goes down,” Lind said.
Notably, Lind collected his third defensive TD this season, had a key fourth down sack, was involved on a fumble, and had a TD-saving tackle.
“It’s pretty big, because there was a lot of questions going into this year,” Lind said. “Whether we were going to retain what we had from last year, and it’s been fun. A great, great ride.”
Salmans (12 TFLs at end), Lind (86 tackles), and senior linebacker Wyatt Waddell (86 tackles, four interceptions) are all likely in the running for 5A Defensive Player of the Year for a unit that has permitted 14.6 points a game – and looks forward to the challenge of playing Maize.
“We have had some good linebackers here, and it’s hard to compare them to some of the juggernauts we have had, but man those two are good, and they just make good football plays all the time,” Crough said. “…Evan and Wyatt are as smart and as savvy as they come.”