Nex-Tech Wireless Western Kansas Team of the Month: Bah, Groen lead new-look Hays High football to big Week 1 victory


Hays High junior running back Malik Bah rushed for 273 yards in a breakout Week 1 home win against Junction City. (Photo by Kim Reel).

HAYS – Hays High junior Malik Bah had just concluded his breakout performance Friday night in the season opener against Junction City. Bah delivered 31 carries for 273 yards and finished with more than 340 all-purpose yards. That included a 46-yard touchdown run with 2 minutes, 7 seconds left that effectively sealed a 33-21 victory.

Additionally, Bah was pressed into some emergency defensive snaps in the secondary. Bah, like many Indians, battled cramps on a warm night. At various times, he and others required help off the field. However, Bah and his exhausted teammates enjoyed a raucous postgame celebration at Lewis Field Stadium.

As soon as the clock ran out, Bah, wearing a big smile, ran with the Indians over to the track to sing with the student section and fans. Then, he jogged across the field, went left to a hallway under the limestone bleachers and took a quick right into the Indian locker room.

For several minutes, HHS released nine months of pent-up joy, energy and enthusiasm that permeated through the locker room door. The Indians staff, led by coach Tony Crough, follows a custom of meeting together briefly outside the locker room. This time, they waited a little longer.

Crough and the coaches walked to the door and heard the raucous din. He smiled, and opened the door a few inches. The noise poured into the hallway. The coaches listened for a few more moments and then joined the celebration.

“I finally got my chance to shine,” Bah said. “I just balled out. I left it all out there on the field. I am glad.”

The scene punctuated an impressive comeback win for the Indians with a new group. HHS graduated the most successful boy class in school history. That included Top 11 all classes selections with quarterback Jaren Kanak and linebacker Gavin Meyers, along with Gavin Nutting, a Shrine Bowl lineman and four-year starter.

“Incredible,” Crough said of the scene. “What was so great about it was it started before coaches got in there.”

First team all-league running back Roy Moroni also graduated from teams that finished 5-3 and 8-3 the past two falls. Last year marked the Indians’ best season since ’95. Those players and 2021 graduate Gaven Haselhorst, now a starting defensive end at Fort Hays as a freshman, helped the Indians set multiple school records.

Senior Kyreese Groen was a second team all-league receiver as a junior. He took over for Kanak under center. Groen said the emotions came from all the questions.

“They are asking, ‘What are you going to do without Jaren? Gavin? Gaven Haselhorst even? Gavin Meyers?,” Groen said. “All this. Roy? And honestly, we’re coming out and we played our hardest.”

Hays High has 23 seniors; around a third had played meaningful snaps before this year. The Indians returned three first team all-league players: senior defensive lineman Carson Spray, senior defensive back Remy Stull and senior tight end Bryce Salmans. Stull has a Division I New Mexico State offer. Salmans, an elite athlete, was one of six to eight starters sick throughout the week. He only practiced Thursday.

“A big belief,” Crough said. “A lot people saying, ‘Well, losing a lot, losing all these guys, and are you going to be any good?’”


Six-foot-4 senior wide receiver Keamonie Archie played in his first-ever football game. A Division I talent, Archie caught a long pass just before halftime to set up a score. He delivered a pass breakup at the end zone midway through the fourth quarter to thwart the Bluejays’ final scoring drive.

“First chance,” Crough said. “And it was really cool to watch him take advantage of it.”

The senior group went undefeated in junior high. Crough said the senior class “knows how to win” and served a “foundation” for the past two senior classes. Hays High trailed 14-0 and 21-7, but scored just before halftime and eventually tallied 26 unanswered points.

Junction City coach Randall Zimmerman has won 208 games in 35 seasons. Zimmerman is starting his 29th year at Junction City. He is currently Kansas’ longest-tenured coach with the same program. Junction City has posted 13 winning records in the last 14 years. Beating the Bluejays is a stamp of quality.

“They have got a really good ball club,” Zimmerman said. “They are very well-coached. They earned it tonight.”

The last nine teams to beat Junction City have finished with winning records. The last 16 have all been at least .500. Zimmerman has followed the Indians’ improvement. Junction City beat Hays High, 56-31, in ’18, Crough’s first game as head coach. JC won the season opener, 48-30, the following year.

“I love this game, I love our community, I love our kids,” Zimmerman said. “We really have to do something for the kids to allow them to develop, get them together more. You can tell what Hays has got going on. I have told people what Hays is doing, getting all their athletes in the weight room together.

“They just feed off of each other, and then you develop leadership that way, and the leadership just spills over in the hallways,” he added. “And into the classroom, and they are holding each other accountable a little bit more. We are not quite there. I think we will just keep working at it, and hopefully we will get there.”

Hays High is again ranked in the top-10 in 5A. The Indians paced the classification with 386 rushing yards after Week 1, per Butler County Times-Gazette’s Charles Chaney’s 5A statistics. HHS is fifth in offense. Hays High travels to longtime rival Great Bend on Friday. GB is on an 18-game losing streak.

“Our guys just showing the state that it wasn’t just about a couple guys,” Crough said. “…’Hey, we are here.’ We have a long ways to go.”

This summer, Crough noted several times that Bah would be a breakout player. As a sophomore, he delivered 83 carries for 634 yards and seven scores. On Friday, the 5-foot-8, 181-pound Bah rushed for the third most yards by an Indian since 2011, per veteran broadcaster Dustin Armbruster. No first-year starting offensive skill player had a bigger Week 1 in Kansas.

“I have put in all the hard work from freshman year,” Bah said.

Groen, whom Crough likened to a “poor man’s Lamar Jackson,” showcased a great arm. He rushed 23 times for 154 yards and a TD, and passed for 105 yards with a score.

“He’s just very physical,” Zimmerman said of Bah. “You can tell he’s pushed weights around the weight room, as every one of their kids have. They are very, very strong, physical kids, and he was a workhorse tonight. They gave him the ball a bunch. I know he was getting wore down there in the fourth quarter, but he just kept going. And then that quarterback run game was a good balance.”

As well, the Indian defense has new coordinator Kip Keeley, a former 2-1A Defensive Player of the Year at nearby La Crosse. Keeley coordinated Chanute’s defense to 8.8 points per game last season, best in 4A. Chanute ended an 11-game losing streak to rival Pittsburg in ’21 and limited the Purple Dragons to 57 rushing yards. Chanute lost by 12 to Bishop Miege in the 4A playoffs. That marked the closest postseason game Miege has had against a public school since it dropped to 4A eight years ago. Miege has six state titles and two state semifinals in that stretch.

Junction City tied for its second-fewest points in the last 21 games. HHS limited the Bluejays to 322 yards. Spray, Stull and senior defensive back Connor Dreiling (second team all-WAC) were the lone Indian defensive players returning with all-league accolades. Hays High is thin in the secondary after injuries. Archie and Bah were among those pressed into duty. Bah said he received “no warning” about playing defense.

“It became emergency pretty quick,” Crough said.


Hays High’s offensive line paved the way with more than 500 yards of total offense in Week 1 (Photo by Kim Reel).

Hays High’s tight-knit offensive line featured junior Will Linenberger, senior Derrik Riggs, junior center Henry Fitzhum, and two seniors: Ashton Putz and Quinton McGuire. None above 6-foot tall for line coach Nathan Hale, a former decorated center. Hale played in the state title game at Hutchinson High School, won a junior college national title at Garden City, and was Fort Hays’ starting center on its back-to-back MIAA title teams.

“It’s a great group,” Crough said. “It’s a bunch of kind of squatty, tough, strong, dirty, physical little guys that want to scrap with you.”  

“My blocking,” Bah added. “O-line – crazy.”

On its first drive, Hays High drove all the way down and didn’t score.

Junction City’s first TD came on a drive that featured a tipped pass on 4th-and-23, and then tallied another touchdown. Zimmerman pointed to several pivot points, including late in the first half. HHS faced 4th-and-1 from its own 37-yard line with 1:05 remaining before intermission.

“We really felt like we had the momentum,” Zimmerman said.

Hays High had a high snap to Groen, who fumbled at the 29. The ball bounced right back to him. He received a great block from Bah, went around the right side and all the way to the Junction City 43. Later, Groen avoided the sack and found Archie with a pass between two defenders inside the red zone. Hays High scored just before intermission when Groen had an excellent read option. Junction City tackled Bah in the backfield, and Groen went around left side.

“That was really, really key,” Zimmerman said.

At halftime, HHS knew they were moving the ball well on Junction City. Crough said the Indians believed “we are in this thing.” The Indians led 27-21 in the fourth quarter. Junction City had third-and-3 at the Hays High 10-yard line. JC rushed for the first down, though had a penalty away from the ball.

Junction City had an illegal shift when it didn’t allow a receiver in motion to get set. Zimmerman said the Bluejays “got too antsy.” A beat later, the player is set and Zimmerman said “it would have been a different last five minutes.” Shortly thereafter, Junction City faced fourth down at the 16.

Then, Archie made the goal line play. HHS is 9-3 in its last 12 games. Two have come down to a late goal line stand. A third Hays High won on a one-yard TD run inside the final minute.

Archie came from the southeast part of the country. He didn’t play middle school football because his school didn’t have the sport. Archie started playing as a freshman, though was deemed too small and was shifted into a manager-type role. His housing situation was unstable as a sophomore.

Last year, he moved out to Hays with his older brother. KSHSAA deemed him ineligible. Crough said KSHSAA didn’t think it was a “justified” move. Archie missed football and was able to play JV basketball and run track. Archie had an impressive summer and has Wyoming interest, but had never been on the field before Friday.

“Pretty cool story,” Crough said. “I think it’s going to blossom throughout the year.”

After one game, the same line could apply not only to Archie but also possibly Hays High in 2022.

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