All that is standing in the way of the Hayden football team and a perfect regular season is rival Soroco, and there is little chance that the Tigers will overlook the Rams.
"Soroco is a huge rivalry for us," Hayden coach Shawn Baumgartner said. "We've talked about this before. If we go in undefeated or if they are undefeated, we will have a great game because it's such a close rivalry between the two of us. It's always been a good game."
Hayden (8-0 overall, 6-0 in the Western Slope League) clinched the league title last week against West Grand, but the Tigers can ill afford a hiccup heading into the playoffs.
"You definitely want to go into the playoffs with a win under your belt," Baumgartner said. "It's very important for us to go down there and get that win."
Kickoff between Hayden and Soroco is at 7 p.m. Friday in Oak Creek.
Soroco is 1-5 in the league, but the Rams were several plays from beating Meeker, Paonia and Rangely. Last week's loss to Rangely, a close 35-27 setback, has the Rams feeling optimistic about the steps their offense took. Soroco's defense, most notably its run defense, has been strong all season.
"Every game we were in, we haven't gotten blown out," Soroco coach Gary Heide said. "I told the team this week, 'I just want to let you know what you should be feeling about yourself. We'd be 5-3 and beaten Paonia and Rangely and the whole psyche would be different. Whether we did that or not, we are the same team. I have great respect for the team and how we played this year. I happen to think they are a darn good football team."
Heide has respect for the direction Hayden has taken this year, as well. He spoke of how talented the Tigers' defense has become.
"That can't be overlooked," he said. "In them, I see the characteristics of what we were and are -- not overly big, but (we) pursue well. I think it's the team speed."
Heide said he saw a quote somewhere about how a player might take a play off blocking or perhaps miss an assignment, but a fast player is always fast and speed can sometimes mask mistakes.
And the same speed Hayden plays with on defense carries over to offense. Few teams can match the quickness of seniors Jesse Drennan and Evan Hilling or junior Tyson Letlow, state qualifiers in the 100 and 200 meters.
Although Heide is interested in preventing big plays, he is realistic. No one has been able to stop the Tigers.
"We're going to have to mix it up a bit," he said. "We will have to control the ball and hope we don't turn the ball over. Hopefully, we'll catch a few breaks. It's how we respond back offensively and not give up. Maybe they will make a couple big plays, and we have to respond and put up points."
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