A 14-yard touchdown pass from Keenan Bruchez to Evan Hilling with 4 minutes, 20 seconds left in the second quarter of Friday's football game in Rangely had Hayden coach Shawn Baumgartner feeling pretty good.
His team had given up three first-half touchdowns, but with time running out in the first half, the Tigers only trailed the Panthers by a touchdown, at 20-13.
"This team has really come on the last two weeks," Baumgartner said. "We played well Friday for three quarters. It was one of our best games this year."
But with 9 minutes remaining, Rangely came to life en route to picking up a 46-13 win.
Baumgartner said the Panthers found the plays they needed to end the Tigers' hopes of a late-season upset of one of the league top contenders.
The drive that seemed to break the Tigers spirit came early in the fourth quarter. Rangely quarterback Luke Scott connected with Josh Padilla on a 15-yard screen pass on third and long.
Rangely converted for a first down that put the ball on the 3-yard line. Josh Allen pounded the ball in a few plays later to put the Panthers up by two touchdowns.
Baumgartner said his players lost their desire to win after the drive.
On Rangely's next possession, Padilla broke a 57-yard run for a touchdown that put the game away.
"After that score, you could see the letdown coming on the field," Baumgartner said.
Rangely's Dustin Cox intercepted a pass for a touchdown and Scott threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Keenan LeBlue in the final minutes to secure the victory.
Brandon Ford led the Tigers with 81 yards on 20 carries. Cam Whiteman collected 23 yards on six carries and Harrison Mader netted 17 yards on five carries.
Bruchez was 6-for-14 for 85 yards and two touchdowns. He also tossed one interception.
Jared Alpe, Hilling and Seth Copeland led the team defensively with five tackles each. Jason Rolando had one sack and one fumble recovery.
The Tigers won the first two games of the season, but lost the final seven on its way to a 2-7 overall record. The team finished at the bottom of the Western Slope League with an 0-7 league record.
Rangely earned the top seed from the league after finishing in a three-way tie with Meeker and Paonia. The teams flipped a coin to determine seeding.
"I think we did some things in these final few games that we can build on next year," Baumgartner said. " We only lose four seniors, so hopefully this experience will be good for our underclassmen."
"We've had some bright and shining moments this year," Baumgartner said. "At times, we really seemed to click, and we've just had kids step it up throughout the year."
Also over the course of the year, Baumgartner said players grew closer and developed a better sense of teamwork, rather than seeing themselves as individuals with individual duties on the field.
"We were looking at separate positions at the beginning of the year," he said. "Now they see themselves as a group that works together. They will fight for each other. Just seeing that come together shows that we've come a long way this year. Team continuity will be key for us in the long run."
The team has lacked continuity, particularly on its coaching staff, in the past few years.
Baumgartner and company are the third staff in three years. Baumgartner said the staff would definitely be back for next season.
Though Baumgartner said he has not thought too much about next season, he is glad that the bulk of the team is coming back.