Tigers roll past Byers

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When the two most prolific passing attack teams in Class 1A square off, as they did Saturday in Hayden, it's natural to think the team that has the best day throwing the ball stands the best chance to advance to the second round of the playoffs.

Think again.

Byers out gained Hayden by nearly 400 yards through the air Saturday, but Hayden won the only stat that mattered. The Tigers managed just 66 yards passing, but they got great play on special teams and several key stops on defense to advance to the second round of the playoffs with a 41-21 win.

"It's a playoff win," Hayden Coach Shawn Baumgartner told his players "We'll take one of those any way we can get it."

The way the Tigers got it Saturday was with key plays at critical moments in the game. Among them:

n With the game tied 7-7 in the second quarter, senior Chris Frentress gathered in a Byers punt at his own 40-yard line and raced up the sideline 56 yards before being dragged down at Byers' 4-yard-line, setting up the first of three touchdowns by senior running back Cam Whiteman.

n On Byers' next possession, Frentress picked off a pass and returned it to Byers' 16-yard line, this time setting up Whiteman's 12-yard touchdown run that gave Hayden a 21-7 lead.

n With five seconds left in the half and Byers at Hayden's 6-yard-line, Hayden defensive lineman Seth Copeland broke through and sacked Bulldog quarterback Bobby Adamson for a five-yard loss, ending the half and preserving Hayden's two-touchdown lead.

n After Byers marched 66 yards on nine plays on its first possession of the third quarter to cut Hayden's lead to 21-14, Tiger senior Evan Hilling gathered in the ensuing kickoff at his 13-yard line, cut across the field and raced 87 yards for a touchdown that put Hayden back up by two scores.

n The ensuing kickoff took a sharp bounce over a Byers receiver who fumbled the ball. Hayden recovered, and five plays later, Whiteman's third touchdown run gave the Tigers a 35-14 lead, and for all practical purposes, their first playoff victory since 2001.

"Our special teams were huge for us today," Baumgartner said. "We had a couple of big punt returns and then (Hilling's) kickoff return was really big. It really got us the momentum back."

Hilling said he knew right away that he had room to run.

"As soon as I caught it, I thought we were going to get a pretty good return," Hilling said. "They were drifting right, and I had a pretty good wall of blockers. I cut across to the left, and there it was. That was big. It helped us pull away."

Hilling, who entered the game as the second-best receiver in Class 1A, managed just two catches for 14 yards Saturday. Junior quarterback Keenan Bruchez, who entered the game with 1,800 yards passing and 24 touchdowns, completed just 8 of 20 passes for 66 yards.

But the numbers didn't matter to Hilling and Bruchez.

"It was frustrating because we couldn't get anything going on offense like we're used to," Hilling said.

"But the important thing is getting the win. That's all that matters."

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