Steamboat Springs To finish the season with a winning record, Hayden faces a tall order beating the state's second-ranked team.
West Grand, a team that has allowed just 39 points all season, travels to Hayden tonight to take on the Tigers in the final regular season game for both teams.
West Grand, 8-0 and ranked second in Class A, has already wrapped up the Western Slope Conference. The Mustangs are 5-0 in league play, including a 27-6 win over Hayden on Sept. 22.
The Tigers are 4-4 overall and 3-2 in league play. That's good enough for second place in the league. Hayden's loss to Plateau Valley on Sept. 29 cost the Tigers a shot at the conference crown.
But Tiger coach Kevin Kleckler said his team still has a fighting chance to finish the season on a winning note and head into next week's playoffs with a lot of momentum.
"It's a big game, if we could beat West Grand, the morale of the team would improve drastically," Kleckler said.
The Tigers will be facing one of the state's toughest defenses and most potent offenses. But it is the second time around, and Kleckler thinks his team will be better prepared for the Mustangs.
Of course, the same holds true for West Grand.
"Its very hard to keep with the same offense and defense," Kleckler said. "West Grand will do different, tricky plays. That's hard to coach against and takes lots of time to prepare kids for it."
Kleckler wants the biggest change for his team to come in the fundamentals, including catching the ball, a problem that has plagued the Tigers all year. In the last match-up, Kleckler said incomplete passes were the downfall. Tonight, Kleckler said, the Tigers will need to throw and run well against the Mustangs.
Kleckler also said West Grand will see a different defense this time around.
"It's getting close to Halloween time, that means a trick or treat defense," Kleckler said. "We'll try to throw them off."
Leading the Mustangs in their last matchup was Jay Yust, a six-foot-4-inch, 215-pound fullback. Quarterback Tom Leitner and tailback Garret Eller also contribute to the I formation offense.
Mustangs coach Chris Brown said a few key starters that were out for the Oct. 22 game would be in tonight's lineup. He pointed to the return of wide receiver Chris Sheehan and said Leitner will be able to play on defense.
"In football you're usually not playing people twice. Hopefully, we play better later in the year," Brown said. "We step out there to do our best in every game, but we want to play well before the playoffs."
No matter what happens tonight, both teams will enter the first round of playoffs next week.
Hayden is scheduled to play 7-1 Dolores County (7-1) on Saturday for a 1 p.m. home game. West Grand will face Lyons, who is 6-3 in the North Central league.