Tigers enjoy view from the top

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Chris Frentress scanned the Hayden football team's season statistics sheet, trying to pinpoint what he found most surprising. He quickly arrived at his answer.

"All the yardage we've been getting," the senior receiver said.

Through four games -- all wins -- the Tigers have amassed 1,214 total yards, taking what defenses are giving them and making the opposition pay. In small-school football, a quarterback is usually the middleman between the center and the running back. Not in Hayden.

While the Tigers have carried the ball 116 times for 618 yards this season, they have 596 passing yards and the offense just may be warming up.

Soroco football coach Gary Heide was in the bleachers scouting Hayden and Rangely during the Tigers' 34-33 win Sept. 17. He left impressed with everything Hayden called. Soroco could have beaten Hayden that night, he said.

Heide saw junior quarterback Keenan Bruchez throw for 136 yards. He watched senior Jesse Drennan score five touchdowns and gain 263 all-purpose yards. Heide said he was left searching for answers about how he could stop the Tigers.

"What I was most impressed with was that they had such a balanced offense," he said. "We wouldn't have been able to tackle Jesse that night they way he ran. With him as a rusher and all their seniors at skill positions, it has made them so effective."

And nearly impossible to stop. While Heide gushed about the talent of Bruchez and Drennan, he barely mentioned seniors Evan Hilling, Chris Frentress and Cam Whiteman. In Friday's 27-0 win against Paonia, which may have been more impressive than the Rangely win, Drennan was relatively quiet, only scoring twice, but Frentress and Hilling combined to catch 12 passes for 209 yards with two touchdowns.

Paonia contained Hayden's ground game, daring the Tigers to win in the air. Hayden won. Bruchez threw for 274 yards.

Baumgartner said he expected the defense would be strong, quick and aggressive. The unit has lived up to his expectations, but even he is taken aback by the team's gaudy offensive numbers. Not because Baumgartner doubted the talent but because there was some uncertainty as to how the offensive line, a mixture of veteran and rookie blockers, would stack up against the opposition.

"Defensively we've played pretty well for the last few years," Baumgartner said. "Offensively is where we have made our biggest gains, most notably our offensive line."

New assistant Lars Jacobsen and volunteer assistant Bob Harris, a former coach at Steamboat Springs, have been working with the linemen since the summer.

The addition of both coaches has freed Baumgartner and assistants Leif Jacobsen, Lars' brother, and volunteer coaches Ryan Wilke and Bret Hoover to focus more on positions they have experience playing.

Lars Jacobsen was a college lineman, and his expertise at the position was something the staff lacked in previous years, Baumgartner said.

"Lars didn't change much," senior Wes Richardson said. "We're doing a lot more technique. He's just a smart fellow."

The marked improvement in the line's play is directly reflected in the improvement of the offense in general, which is why coaches like Heide leave games impressed by the skill position players.

"Keenan is coming on really well," Baumgartner said. "I think he has a lot more confidence. Our line is doing a great job blocking, and he has a long time to make throws."

Frentress said the team is more confident than ever. In past years, some players were more concerned with individual numbers and whether they could count on their teammates.

Not this season.

When Hayden found itself not only playing but beating Rangely, a favorite to win the league title and possibly return to the state semifinals, the Tigers realized their potential, Frentress said.

When Hayden traveled to Paonia and blanked another playoff team from 2003, the Tigers proved the Rangely win wasn't a fluke. Now, the test for Baumgartner and the seniors is to maintain that edge and that fire that can easily be extinguished by hype.

Sometimes the hardest games to prepare for are the ones when a team is expected to win in resounding fashion just as Hayden is expected to do Friday night.

But the Tigers know what it's like to be on the bottom. They didn't win a league game last season. Hayden isn't interested in finishing near the bottom again.

The seniors are providing great leadership, and the Tigers are getting production from players of all ages. Sophomore Brandon Ford, who gained 20 pounds since last year, is leading the team with 50 tackles through four games. He may be in his second year of varsity football, but he feels comfortable speaking on team goals.

"It will be a disappointment not to go to the playoffs," Ford said.

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