Hayden football eyeing playoff berth

Tigers set to face Lake County Panthers today

If you go

What: Hayden High School football (4-4) vs. Lake County (3-5)

When: 7 p.m. today

Where: Hayden High School

Cost: $4 adults, $3 students

— Only one Western Slope League team gets an automatic bid to the 16-team Class 1A playoffs, and, thanks to a big win against the Hayden High School football team this month, Hotchkiss has that spot locked up.

The Hayden Tigers are in prime position to secure one of seven available at-large berths, however, and they can go a long way toward doing that at 7 tonight in Hayden against an often-beaten Lake County squad.

“This is a must-win game for us,” Hayden coach Shawn Baumgartner said.

Hayden (4-4) hasn’t made the postseason since 2007, when it drove all the way to the state semifinals. This year’s seniors were freshmen on that team, mostly fetching water and holding down the bench. Still, they remember and are eager to again piece together a playoff run.

After losing three of four games in a brutally tough nonconference schedule, the Tigers have turned their season around. They’ve taken four of five Western Slope games and tonight could put themselves alone in second place.

“Our pre-season was the toughest schedule we’ve ever had. After we were 1-3 and had lost three straight, the wind was definitely out of our sails a little bit,” Baumgartner said. “But the kids did a great job rallying and putting that behind them. Our next goal is make the playoffs.”

In Lake County, Hayden will find a team that’s had a rough couple of months. The squad opened the season with a pair of wins, the first of which came via forfeit. It did beat Sargent, 38-32, and beat Rangely, 26-8, last week, but lost badly in the five games in between.

Baumgartner said a study of game tape has shown that teams have been able to jump out early on the Panthers but that Lake County still proved to be a team with a dangerous offense.

“They have a really good running quarterback, and they like to keep the ball in his hands,” Baumgartner said. “They will spread you out and try to get as many guys out of the box as they can. They also have a good running back who’s rushed for close to 600 yards this year.”

The key to stopping Lake County will be competent man-to-man defense by cornerbacks and consistent tackling by the rest of the Tiger defense, Baumgartner said.

“It’s key to get on a roll going into the playoffs,” he said. “We started the season off slow, but we’ve gone 4-1 now, and we’re in that winning mind-set. We need to stay that way going into the playoffs.”

— To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 871-4253 or e-mail jreichenberger@steamboatpilot.com

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