Hayden High School senior Ethan Armstrong tries to push past a Rangely player during first half of Friday's homecoming game against Rangely. Hayden plays at Hotchkiss at 7:30 tonight.

File photo

Hayden High School senior Ethan Armstrong tries to push past a Rangely player during first half of Friday's homecoming game against Rangely. Hayden plays at Hotchkiss at 7:30 tonight.

Tigers must get defensive

Stopping running back is Hayden's key to rejoining league race

If you go

What: Hayden football (4-2, 1-1) at Hotchkiss (5-1, 3-0)

When: 7:30 p.m. today

Where: at Hotchkiss High School, 438 Bulldog St., Hotchkiss

Standings

1A Western Slope League

Team Overall League

Hotchkiss 5-1 3-0

Paonia 4-3 2-1

Hayden 4-2 1-1

Meeker 3-3 1-1

West Grand 4-2 0-2

Rangely 1-5 0-2

Hayden football coach Shawn Baumgartner knows stopping Hotchkiss running back Ethan Coe is the key for the Tigers tonight in a pivotal Western Slope League game in Hotchkiss.

But Baumgartner hasn't figured out how to do that yet. After a week of searching, the coach said Thursday afternoon he wasn't even close to finding an answer.

"I just don't know," Baumgartner said. "He's one of the top leading rushers in the state and in our conference. It's definitely a big key for us to stop him."

Coe, a senior, already has racked up more than 1,100 yards this year, easily topping 100 yards each week. He outdid himself the past two weeks, piling up 287 yards against Rangely and 243 against West Grand.

His gaudy stats are a big reason why Hotchkiss (5-1) is undefeated in the league and on track to grab the title in its first year after dropping down to Class 1A football.

"What we try to do is grind it out, but luckily, he has the skills as far as strength and speed to make a grind-it-out play a big play," Bulldogs coach Zac Lemon said. "He's got great speed, can get to the corner quickly, then outrun people. Then, between the tackles, he can get yardage even after contact."

The problem with stopping Coe is that the defense also must stop several other gifted runners.

Fullback Jake Peterson has averaged more than 6 yards per carry in five of Hotchkiss' six games, while quarterback Ryan Spor can be a defense's worst nightmare.

"They run a split back-veer offense, and the quarterback is very good at running the option," Baumgartner said. "We have to play assignment football and be real sound up front. They have more than one kid that can hurt you."

Baumgartner said it will be important for Hayden to sustain powerful offensive drives of its own, keeping Coe and the Bulldog offense on the sidelines.

However they go about trying to slow the onslaught, Hayden is in a must-win situation if it hopes to claim this season's Western Slope title.

The Tigers (4-2) could create a four-way tie if they can knock off Hotchkiss, potentially knotting Hayden, Hotchkiss, Paonia and Meeker at the top of the standings with one loss each.

Big games still would remain for the Tigers against Meeker and West Grand, but a loss tonight would make it impossible for Hayden to crawl back into the championship mix.

"This is a really big game. If we go down and drop that game, that sets us back in fourth place," Baumgartner said. "They're big up front and have team speed on both sides of the ball. We will need to step up and play to what we're capable of this week."

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