ANDALE — The Andale football players were on one knee, huddled in a semi-circle around coach Gary O'Hair Friday night.
Most of the players had tear-stained faces as they listened to O'Hair talk following Topeka Hayden's 23-10 victory over unbeaten Andale in the Class 4A quarterfinal game.
Every so often, a cheer would erupt from the other end zone, and a handful of players took quick glances at Hayden's players.
O'Hair tried to comfort his team, but it wasn't easy.
"You never know what to say," he said. "There's nothing you can say after a game like this to make them feel better. You want to make them feel better, but you can't."
The loss was especially difficult because Andale appeared to have all the necessary components to win another Class 4A title. The Indians won 4A in 2006 and 2007.
"All of us, growing up in a small town, we've played together as little kids, and all we've wanted is to win a state championship," Andale senior Craig Simon said.
It didn't help that Andale committed four turnovers, including three fumbles.
"It seemed like it was 14 (turnovers)," O'Hair said. "You can't turn it over against a team like Hayden. It's something we've done a great job of all year, taking care of the ball, causing turnovers.
"We were ahead like 41-11 on turnovers for the year. When it's against a team like that, you just can't do that."
O'Hair addressed the turnover issue with his players, telling them that sometimes it happens. Sometimes the ball is slick, sometimes helmets knock it loose.
"Credit them, they did a good job, coming out, hitting hard and knocking the ball loose," O'Hair said later.
Hayden made Andale pay for its mistakes.
Andale, which had taken a 7-0 lead on Scott Lester's 79-yard run midway through the first quarter, stopped a Hayden drive with an interception by Ryan Bergkamp.
The Indians took over at their own 6, but James Tipton fumbled on the first play and Hayden's Alec Steuber recovered in the end zone for the touchdown.
Midway through the fourth quarter, with Andale trailing 16-10, Hayden's Casey Bohannon intercepted Jake Weninger. Bohannon returned it to the Andale 4, and Hayden scored two plays later.
"We kind of gave them two right there," O'Hair said.
While Hayden gave up a big early play to Andale, that was rare; Andale had five carries of 12 or more yards. In the third quarter, Andale had six carries for a combined zero yards.
"They were playing really physical ball, staying low on the line of scrimmage," O'Hair said of Hayden's defense. "We had a hard time grinding it out, running on them like we usually do."
Midway through the second quarter, Andale faced a fourth-and-3 at the Hayden 37. The Wildcats stopped Andale a yard short.
Andale had another key fourth-and-3 with 8:40 remaining in the game and Hayden leading 23-10. At the Hayden 5, the Indians lost five yards and turned it over.
"We had some fourth downs that we didn't convert and we didn't capitalize on some things and that might cost you the game," said junior Jake Hattabaugh, who led Andale with 113 rushing yards on 16 carries. "You just have to keep fighting.
"We practiced and played hard all year. It's a success on the year, and we played our hearts out."
Topeka Hayden (8-4) 0 8 0 15 — 23 Andale (11-1) 7 3 0 0 — 10
A—Lester 79 run (Hattabaugh kick)
TH—Steuber recovered Andale fumble in end zone (Morrow pass from Arnold)
A—Hattabaugh 29 FG
TH—Arnold 1 run (Arnold run)
TH—Nicol 3 run (Engroff kick)
Rushing—Hayden, Nicol 18-84, Engroff 9-42, Steuber 9-29, McGivem 1-2, Bohannon 1-1, Morrow 1-0, Arnold 4-(-5). Andale, Hattabaugh 16-113, Lester 6-89, Rowland 6-20, R. Horsch 1-20, Tipton 7-8, Weninger 1-8, Armstrong 1-2.
Passing—Hayden, Arnold 8-13-81-1. Andale, Weninger 5-11-82-1, Hattabaugh 0-2-0-0.
Receiving—Hayden, Morrow 3-23, Engroff 1-21, Smith 1-17, Bohannon 2-13, Martin 1-7. Andale, Horsch 2-54, Trent 1-20, Simon 1-5, Hattabaugh 1-3.