After two season-opening routs against junior varsity teams, it's tough to tell whether the Hayden High School football team is ready for league play.
Unless you ask one of its players.
"We'll be ready to play Rangely," junior Brandon Ford said. "We'll be ready. Coach will have us ready."
Hayden, the defending Western Slope League champion, opens league play against Rangely at 7 p.m. Friday in Rangely.
The Tigers will get the Panthers' best shot, but Rangely likely won't know what to expect from Hayden, because Hayden's starters have played only about four quarters in two games.
Hayden defeated the Steamboat Springs High School junior varsity team, 55-12, on Saturday. A week ago, Moffat County's junior varsity team lost to Hayden, 41-6. Hayden's starters surrendered none of those 18 points and accounted for almost all of the team's offense.
"We don't have anything to gain in these games and everything to lose," Ford said.
Consequently, Ford said, there is talk about eliminating the JV games from Hayden's schedule. Tigers coach Shawn Baumgartner remembers Hayden struggling against area Class 3A schools when he first arrived four years ago.
Hayden is back among the top of the schools in its league, however, and is too experienced, athletic and skilled to go up against underclassmen half the size of Tigers players.
But on Saturday, the Tigers were reminded that if they don't come ready to play, they will struggle. Hayden fumbled the ball several times on botched snaps out of the shotgun and had difficulty moving the ball at the outset of the game.
"I was happy with the second half," Baumgartner said. "You have to take everything and learn from it."
Hayden didn't get on the scoreboard until the 4:31 mark of the first quarter after Coy Letlow's 1-yard run. It was the first of six rushing touchdowns scored by the Tigers. The other two came through the air, but Tigers quarterback Keenan Bruchez and the receivers didn't fare as well against Steamboat as they did against Moffat County.
"We made a few adjustments against Steamboat's coverage," Baumgartner said. "I thought (Steamboat) was much more prepared, but they had a game under their belts, and Moffat County hadn't."
The lopsided game gave Hayden's younger players a chance to get playing time, and sophomore Zathan Bark took advantage of it, rushing for 67 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore Chuck Hines caught a touchdown pass from freshman Mitch Doolin late in the fourth quarter.
The Sailors had several offensive highlights during Saturday's game. Sophomore Greg Ingalls caught a 3-yard pass from freshman quarterback Alex Wood for Steamboat's first touchdown. The second score came on junior Aaron Hornstein's 85-yard kickoff return.
Both conversions failed.
Hayden's JV team and Steamboat's freshman team, which played each other pretty even Saturday, will meet again at 5 p.m. Monday in Hayden.
-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org