Hayden prepares for clash with No. 1 Akron | CraigDailyPress.com

Hayden prepares for clash with No. 1 Akron

Dave Shively

— Hayden football coach Shawn Baumgartner could spend some time reflecting on how far the Tigers have come since he first took the program’s reins.

He could think about that first year, about 2003, when Hayden went 2-7 and couldn’t get a single win in Class 1A Western Slope League play.

But four years later, Baumgartner is only looking forward.

Hayden will host the No. 1-ranked Akron Rams in a 1 p.m. Saturday semifinal, after advancing further through the postseason than any Hayden team in school history.

“Looking back won’t do you any good,” Baumgartner said Thursday. “Everything is going into Saturday – it’s all Akron, all week.”

Hayden reached the state semifinals in 1974 and again in 1975, but it was long before the inception of a 16-team postseason bracket – back then, a first-round win meant a ticket to the semis. The last semifinal appearance for any Western Slope League team – with the modern bracket – was in 2003, when both Paonia and Rangely advanced as far as the third playoff round, which Hayden will play in Saturday.

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No Hayden team has ever advanced to a state title game.

But a victory against Akron would earn the Tigers a trip to a championship game Nov. 24, against the winner of No. 6 Wray at No. 2 Limon.

“You have the opportunity of a lifetime,” Baumgartner told the team after its 14-12 upset win at Byers last Saturday. “You get to play the so-called ‘best team in the state.'”

As temperatures hit 21 degrees Wednesday night, the Tigers practiced under the lights, preparing to match the so-called “best.”

The defending state champion Rams have earned that label by giving up a mere four touchdowns during the course of their undefeated season, and outscoring legitimate North Central opponents by a combined 434-32 points, including seven shutout victories.

“We just have a good group of kids, good leadership and kids that want to sell out for each other every game,” Akron coach Brian Christensen said. “I know it sounds cliche, but we just try to get better each week.”

Akron runs out of a single-wingback offense, with junior Joe McKay as the primary wing who has come flying out of the back – for more than 1,000 yards this season.

While some would view the wingback formation as an “old-school” offensive anachronism, Baumgartner is wary.

“They’ve got four ball carriers running in every direction – everything is misdirection,” Baumgartner said.

The Rams’ speed doesn’t stop there. Upon watching film of Akron’s 39-9 rout of No. 9 Peyton, Baumgartner noticed how Akron’s defense wasn’t just near the ball – “they have 9-10 guys in the pile every time,” he said.

But Christensen is also concerned, after watching the balanced offensive performance Hayden had against Byers.

The Tigers racked up 171 yards on the ground and 135 in the air, as junior quarterback Mitch Doolin completed 11 of 17 attempts, throwing for a touchdown and no interceptions.

The Tigers and Rams also size up fairly evenly at the line.

“They’ve got a very good ball club that makes it tough when they throw the ball 20 times,” Christensen said. “We just have to go out and be prepared when we have this big target on our back.”

One of Hayden’s most telling statistics from the Byers win was in the first down difference (17-5), which enabled the Tigers to keep drives alive, control the clock and keep the ball out of their opposition’s hands.

“That’s a credit to the guys on our D,” Baumgartner said. “We limited their running game. Coverage-wise, we did well and we had enough pressure to move the quarterback around.”

If Hayden can repeat last Saturday’s all-out, error-free effort, “playing the game we know we’re capable of,” Baumgartner said, the 2007 Tigers could have one more chance to rewrite the record book.

If you go

What: Class 1A football state semifinal, No. 1 Akron at No. 5 Hayden

Where: Hayden High School

When: Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday

Cost: $7 for general admission, $5 for students (K-12) and senior citizens. Children ages 4 and younger are free.

Radio: Pre-game radio broadcast coverage begins at 12:40 p.m. on 93.7/102.3 KRAI on Saturday. The game will be simulcast online at http://www.krai.com