Seven games into his first season playing quarterback, Palmer Hutchison is looking like a seasoned veteran at the position. 

Hutchison's progression in directing the Hays High offense continued on Thursday night against Buhler, with the senior putting together another big night during the Indians’ 41-21 win at Lewis Field Stadium. 

“I keep reminding everyone the kid’s never played quarterback,” first-year Hays High coach Tony Crough said. “He’s a linebacker out there just slinging it. He’s a football player and he’s learned how to play quarterback. Man, if he had learned how to play quarterback the last two years in a system like this, he’d be an All-State kid.”

Hutchison completed 14 of 23 passes for 244 yards, including a 97-yard touchdown pass, while also running for 59 yards with two touchdowns. 

“I think it took us some time to get used to (the passing game), and for me to get used to quarterback,” Hutchison said. “Definitely feeling good back there and getting used to it.”

Hutchison’s outing was just one of several impressive aspects on the night for Hays High (3-4). Junior running back Hayden Brown continued to show his knack for finding the end zone with three rushing touchdowns, while the defense forced five turnovers —  two interceptions and three fumbles.

“Our defense was awesome tonight,” Crough said. “We can sit here and talk about our offense, but the reason we won that game was our defense.”

Hays High, which bounced back from a one-point loss to Dodge City, trailed 7-0 at the end of the first quarter before reeling off 28 straight points in the second quarter.  Brown ran for touchdowns of 20 and 46 yards before Hutchison blazed past the Buhler secondary for a 46-yard TD to make it 21-7 with 3:37 left in the first half.

One play after Hays senior receiver Willie Sennett was injured attempting to make a deep catch, Hutchison found freshman Jaren Kanak for a 97-yard touchdown — on the exact same play that was run for Sennett — pushing the lead to 28-7 with 1:31 left until halftime. 

“Man, it was bittersweet,” Crough said. “Willie goes out; it looks like it’s a pretty severe knee injury. We’re sitting there talking, ‘Ok, let’s put the freshman in.’ And I’m talking with the coaches and they’re like, ‘Coach, run the same play, we’ve got them. We’ve got them on our corner post route and it’s open.’ So we called it again and it’s open and we bust it. That freshman’s pretty good.”

“I just thew it up there, hoping the freshman could make a play and he sure did,” Hutchison said of the pass to Kanak. “He took it all the way to the house, so that was pretty cool for him.”

With Hutchison's development, the Indians have utilized a steady offensive balance between the run and pass game. 

“We’re at the point now where, what the defense gives us, that’s what we can take,” Crough said. “And that’s what good offenses do. If you’ve just got better kids than everyone else, you can do whatever you want. You can run the ball and pound it on everybody. We’ve got good kids, but we’re going to be outnumbered and outsized sometimes, and we take what the defense gives us. Palmer’s learning how to do that a little bit. Receivers are stepping up. 

“That’s what I’m most impressed with, how much better we throw the football than we did two, three, four weeks ago.”

Four of Buhler’s five turnovers came in the first half with three fumbles and an interception to Tavian Creamer. The Crusaders (3-4) drove to the 1-yard line late in the second quarter but couldn't get off another play before time expired. 

Hays stayed in control in the second half, extending the lead to 34-7 early in the third quarter after Hutchison shook off tackles on the way to an 8-yard touchdown run. Brown found the end zone for the third time on a 3-yard run early in the fourth to make it 41-14. He finished with 87 yards on the ground. 

Crough said he pleased with how his team responded after giving up a 19-point lead in the fourth quarter in last week's 34-33 loss to Dodge City. 

“We are a young, inexperienced football team still,” Crough said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that haven’t played much junior varsity, freshman football, so we make a lot of junior varsity, freshman mistakes. I think last week was one of them, where you get up on a team and you don’t know how to finish. So we practiced that last week, and this week we were obviously  better at it.”

Senior running back Jordan Hawkins was Buhler’s main source of offense, rushing for a 19-yard TD and a pair of 1-yard plunges. He compiled 152 rushing yards.

“That’s a good Buhler team,” Crough said. “Maybe not one of their best in the last six, eight years, but they’re still good. They’re a tough, physical team. And I was the proudest of how we came out and we were tough. We we’re tough, we got after it. 

“There’s been a lot of talk around here how Hays kids can’t be tough. That’s a bunch of baloney, because tonight we were tough as heck against a team that really gets after you.”

Freshman Roy Moroni forced two fumbles for the Indians and Hutchison also picked off a pass for the second straight game.

The Indians will close out the regular season next Friday at Salina Central while Buhler will play host to Winfield. 

“This was just a really good team win," Hutchison said. "I think we needed that to kind of give us some momentum moving forward, so it was good to see.”

“We’ve got to find a way to win on the road, we’re going to have to in the playoffs obviously,” Crough said. “Salina Central’s a good team and our kids have played a lot against them in the past and it would be huge to go over there and get a win against a good Salina Central team.”