If there was any question about which team should represent the Western Slope League in this year's playoffs, Hayden answered it Friday night.
In the final regular season home game of the season, the Tigers' offensive line provided the time quarterback Keenan Bruchez needed to pick apart the Rams' secondary helping the Tigers roll to a 54-8 victory against cross-county rival Soroco in a game that determined the final playoff spot for the 2A Western Slope League.
"Our line gave us the time we needed, and that's what allowed us to get the deep balls," Hayden's Tyson Sweetser said.
Bruchez used his time wisely by completing nine of 14 passes for 261 yards. He also rushed for 73 yards on six carries.
"We wanted to get them down early and then keep them down," Bruchez said.
When the Tigers were not scoring in the air, running back Brandon Ford was piling up the yards on the ground. Ford finished the game with 122 yards on 11 carries. Coy Letlow added 28 yards on four carries.
After being shut down on the team's first offensive possession of the game, Bruchez and company came to life.
Bruchez set up the Tigers' first touchdown with a 28-yard pass to receiver Dave Gullett with just more than four minutes left in the first quarter. Bruchez capped of the nine-play, 80-yard drive with the first of three first-half touchdowns.
Bruchez added 1-yard and 67-yard touchdown runs before the end of the half and threw a 33-yard touchdown pass to Tyson Letlow and another 69-yard pass to Gullett giving the Tigers a 34-0 halftime lead.
"We prepared for this team all week, but it just didn't happen tonight," Soroco coach Gary Heide said after the game. "I was worried about Keenan and company. They played tough all last year, and I knew that they would be prepared to come out hard and play this game."
The Rams, 5-4 this season, struggled to find their stride in the game as the Tigers held Soroco's leading rusher, Nick Rangel, to less than 80 yards for the ball game.
"They keyed off me all night," Rangel said. "I'm used to it because everybody keys on me, but we couldn't get it done tonight."
In the second half, Ford added another touchdown to the Tigers' total on Hayden's first drive, making the score 41-0.
Soroco's Jon Cole scored the Rams' only touchdown of the game on a 56-yard run with 2:34 left in the third. Soroco quarterback Johnny DeCosta ran the ball into the end zone on the conversion to make the score 41-8.
But the Tigers put a quick end to any hopes for a Soroco comeback. On the next drive, Bruchez connected with Tyson Letlow to extend the Tiger's lead to 48-8.
After the score, both teams turned to junior varsity players. Hayden's Mitch Vedeop scored the last touchdown of the game for Hayden in the final minutes of the game.
"We changed a few things on offense this week," Hayden coach Shawn Baumgartner said. "We were not happy with our offensive production the past couple of weeks, and we knew that we needed to make some changes.
"Our offensive line came out and did a great job tonight, and that's why we were able to go down the field and win this game."
The Tigers will advance to face Dolores in next week's playoff game. The game is tentatively scheduled for 1 p.m. in Dolores.
The loss brings an end to the Rams' season.
"This game doesn't take away from a terrific season for our team," Heide said. "I really have to thank those six seniors for sticking with us and making this a great season."
-- To reach John F. Russell, call 871-4209 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org