Matt Ray knew what his team was up against Thursday when the freshmen, sophomores and several juniors suited up against the Hayden High School varsity team. He had helped coach Hayden two years ago and he knew the score wasn't going to be pretty for his Moffat County Bulldogs.
"We don't expect them to win this game," Ray said after the Bulldogs fell, 43-6. "Most of our guys had their first games tonight of high school football against guys who have played for three or four."
Ray was quick not to discredit the Tigers.
"That junior class has really grown into a good athletic class," he said. "They've gotten a lot bigger and fast than last year."
The Tigers defeated the Bulldogs 20-6 last year and just like this year it was the first time that the freshmen class had ever lost in football.
"It was an eye opener for those young kids," said MCHS coach Ron Linsacum, who joined the freshman coaching staff Tuesday when head coach Gary Torgerson took some time off to be with an ailing relative. "It really threw them a curve to not have Torg there, but they hung in there until the very last play."
A lot of new things happened at once for freshman quarterback Evan Hertzog.
"I hadn't taken snaps from my center until two days ago," he said. "It was probably the toughest game I've ever played."
He made no excuses for his team.
"The score showed we got killed," he said. "But games like these will make us better."
Hertzog kept the Bulldogs from ending the game without a score, when on the last play from scrimmage he reversed fields on a blown play and ran it back for 69 yards.
Hayden showed its advantage in size, strength and experience from the first play of the game. Sophomore Tyson Letlow took the kick off and ran it 68 yards to the Moffat County 14-yard line. Two plays later junior Kenny Gehrman ran through the middle for a 14-yard score.
The Bulldogs were unable to capitalize on a fumble recovery and in Hayden's next possession, the Tigers took the ball and marched into the end zone. The series was a 60-yard drive that included a 28-yard pass from sophomore quarterback Keenan Bruchez to Letlow, an 11-yard run by Bruchez, and was capped off by a two-yard score by junior Cam Whiteman.
Hayden missed its second point-after attempt and the first quarter ended with the home team up, 12-0.
The first play in the second quarter was an 11-yard touchdown pass to junior Evan Hilling for the Tigers and with another missed PAT the score was 18-0 with 11:56 left in the quarter.
After two unsuccessful possessions from each team, Hayden's offense struck again when Bruchez and Letlow connected again for a 23-yard touchdown pass. The Tigers missed their fourth extra point, making point-after defense a highlight for the Bulldogs in the first half.
On Moffat County's next possession, sophomore Reid Hanneman brought the Bulldogs the closest they had been to the end zone with a 35-yard run to Hayden's 23. But two consecutive sacks by the Tigers put the Bulldogs back where they started. The half ended with Hayden up, 24-0.
"They played a lot better than we did," said sophomore Korey Kostur, who also played in last year's opening game. "They are a stronger team this year than last."
The Tigers continued to show their strength in the second half with touchdown runs of 36 and 66 yards from Whiteman.
The final score for the Tigers came with 10:52 remaining in the game when sophomore Harrison Mader scampered down the sideline for 60 yards. Then, to the delight of the crowd, Bruchez made his first PAT in seven tries to put his team up, 43-0.
Until Hertzog's score, the Bulldogs were unable to get inside Hayden's 20-yard line in the game.
"We had maybe six plays on offense," said Linsacum, normally the backfield coach on varsity. "There were some times where we had to draw plays in the sand, but they all hung in there you have to give them credit for that."
The freshmen will get another shot at Hayden when they play the tiger's junior varsity Sept. 18.
David Pressgrove can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.