Hayden With just over four minutes remaining to play, and his team clinging to a six-point lead, Hayden Tigers quarterback Kelly Bruchez put the game into the hands of junior Jared Alpe.
The tight end came through.
"I just wanted to catch the ball, that's the only thing I could think about," Alpe said. "It was my job to make a play and make it happen."
Alpe's 3-yard reception on fourth and goal wasn't his longest, or most spectacular, of the night but it gave the Tigers the 12-point cushion they were looking for down the stretch against a stubborn Grand Valley team.
The touchdown, along with an Evan Hilling interception on the Cardinals next drive, were the only things that stifled Grand Valley's come-from-behind bid in the wild 33-21 contest.
"We needed it," Hayden coach Scott Parker said of Alpe's touchdown catch. "In the second half they were driving the football and offensively they put us in some third-and-long situations and Jared came up big for us."
Hayden took the advantage early in the game. Following a 1-yard Bruchez touchdown run, the Cardinal's fumbled the kickoff deep in their own end to set up another hometown score.
A few play's later, Bruchez scrambled 12-yards to the end zone for his second score. He also ran in the 2-point conversion to give his team the 14-0 lead early in the second quarter.
But solid running from Grand Valley's Sam Hughes and Jeremy Quick kept the Cardinals in the game for most of the night.
Hughes wrapped up a 50-yard offensive surge with 7:50 left in the half to make the score 14-7. The Tigers got a much-needed boost when Bruchez hit Hilling with a 31-yard pass in the final minutes of the first half. Hayden went to the locker room with a 21-7 lead. A good thing because Grand Valley marched down the field to score on the opening drive of the second half.
But it was the Tigers' Alpe who made the biggest plays of the second half.
Several huge catches, including a 44-yard reception in the third quarter, helped him collect 112 receiving yards.
Bruchez also connected with Hilling four times for 31 yards. The Tigers quarterback finished the night with seven completions for 160 yards. But none of them was bigger than the fourth-down completion to Alpe to close out the game. Hayden finished with 396 yards of total offense.
After the contest, Parker noted the play of his senior quarterback. In addition to a pair of rushing touchdowns in the first half, he connected with three different receivers for scores in the game. He also led the team in rushing with 123 yards on the ground.
"They were a little slow getting to the outside in the first half, so we were able to run the ball," Bruchez said. "In the second, they shut that down so we had to go to the pass, which turned out fine."
Despite threatening several times in the game, the Cardinals never led.
The game did get close with 11:54 left to play when Bruchez fumbled the ball in his own end zone. Grand Valley jumped on the ball and pulled to within six points with most of the quarter remaining.
Alan Stark sparked Hayden's defense with six tackles and seven assists. The Tigers were also helped by huge second-half interceptions from Hilling and Jordan Rolando, both of which killed Grand Valley drives.
The Tigers consumed just more than three minutes on the final game-ending drive, which started on their own 45-yard line. The defense had pinned Grand Valley deep to set up the favorable field position.
"We got the big stops when we needed them," Parker said. "I'm real happy with the kids and it's good to get that win on homecoming."
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