The Rangely football team expected a postseason run, but coach Brandon Sanchez thought it would come this season instead of last season.
In 2003, Behind a solid senior class and a more dominant junior group, the Panthers made it all the way to the state semifinals before falling to Akron. This year, a group of players that Sanchez began coaching when they were in eighth grade is in pursuit of the only thing better: a trip to the state championship game.
"Our expectations are very high," Sanchez said. "The pressure is there, and I understand that. This core group has been together since they were probably in kindergarten. They are a close-knit group."
This year is Sanchez's first as head coach, but he was an assistant under previous coach Dave Gonzales, so there aren't any drastic changes.
Tigers coach Shawn Baumgartner said the Panthers look every bit as talented this year as last. The most notable difference is the sophomore starting quarterback, but the dominant offensive line is intact with one more year experience.
"From what I've seen, nothing's changed," Baumgartner said. "I think it could be a real fun game. We will really have to contain the run."
The same is true for the Panthers. Through the first two games -- Rangely and Hayden enter Friday's game undefeated -- the Tigers have established the run with seniors Cam Whiteman and Jesse Drennan. The strength of Hayden's team is in its experience at nearly every position, most notably at its skill positions.
Coaches like to get the football in the hands of the team's best players. Hayden will try to do that Friday; so will Rangely. If the Panthers are able to control the line and stuff the run up the middle, the Tigers will need to use their speed to the outside and down the field.
In Hayden's easy win against Steamboat's junior varsity Saturday, the Tigers threw several short, high-percentage passes to the outside in an effort to let their athletes make plays. Quarterback Keenan Bruchez took a couple of shots down the field, too. Both will need to be working Friday to keep Rangely's defense honest.
"When I was interviewed before the season, Hayden was one of my picks to be a surprise of the league," Sanchez said. "I knew about their senior class. I knew they would be a much better team than last year. I've told my team not to look past them."
Kickoff between Rangely and Hayden is 7 p.m. Friday at the Hayden High School.
-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org