Steamboat Springs After winning its opening two games against JV opponents, the Hayden football team figured it would be challenged sooner or later by a more experienced foe.
Paonia handed the Hayden a 51-6 loss on Sept. 14, prompting coach Scott Parker to spend this week's practice focusing on the fundamentals with Plateau Valley/De Beque coming to town for a 1 p.m. game today at Hayden Field.
"We had a good week of practice," Parker said. "I've been real pleased with the kids' work ethic and attention. Two of the three weeks we've been rewarded."
The Tigers are hoping it becomes three out of four.
The Cowboys are coming off a 20-19 win over Rangely on Sept. 14, their first win of the season. Coach Scott Rienks, who grew up in Hayden, said he is familiar with the program, especially the freshmen who are the same age as one of his children. New coaches, however, force him to throw past memories away.
"I'm not sure what to even expect because it's a new coaching staff," Rienks said. "I know they lost a lot. I think we're both in a little bit of rebuilding stages."
Hayden's success on offense is determined by how well it can run the ball. Against Paonia, the Tigers managed just 40 yards on 23 carries for an average of 1.7 yards per carry.
Sophomore Jesse Drennan attributed Hayden's futility to Paonia's speedy linebackers. This week the Tigers took a more workmanlike approach to practice, Drennan said, revisiting the basics that played a part in their previous success.
"The coaches really want us to focus," he said. "After we lost, we came to do a job, not goof off. That sounds bad, but it's not."
Parker said the Cowboys look like an athletic team on tape. Rienks said he needs all-out effort from his players to make up for what they lack in size and experience.
"I only have three seniors on the team and right now I don't have any starting on defense," Rienks said. "We can't make a lot of mistakes. We're not big enough or fast enough."
Coaches commonly downplay the ability of their team or the importance of any game on their schedule. Parker is no exception. He has repeatedly said the Tigers prepare to win every game every week, and his players repeat his words almost on cue.
"I don't pay attention to who we play," Drennan said. "I pay attention to what I need to do for the week."
But it's hard to ignore how the rest of the league is doing. While Hayden is a young team overall, it is still shooting for the postseason. With West Grand, Meeker and Paonia as the early favorites to win the league, the Tigers need wins against opponents like the Cowboys and vice versa for each to enjoy success within the league.
Hayden arguably has a slight edge being at home but the Tigers are a "little banged up," Parker said. On Thursday, he was still waiting for word regarding a couple of players.