Hayden football coach Shawn Baumgartner is going back and forth about whether this year's Paonia squad is better than the team his Tigers defeated a year ago.
After the Hayden High School football team's easy wins against junior varsity squads, it was ready to face a varsity opponent. To the surprise of the players and coach Shawn Baumgartner, Hayden fared even better than it did in its first two games, defeating Rangely, 50-0, on Friday in Rangely. Even the Moffat County and Steamboat Springs junior varsity squads had more success moving the ball against the Tigers. "Our starting defense played seven series, and six of those were three-and-out," Baumgartner said. "I think we showed we were ready to enter the league. The defense made a statement, and the offense did, too." The Tigers scored on their first two drives to go up 14-0 in the first quarter. Last year, Hayden did the same thing before its defense had to make a game-saving stand in the fourth quarter. There was no suspense Friday. Hayden's starters have not played much more than one half of football in any of their three games this year. "It's been neat to see the young guys step up when they go in there," Baumgartner said. "They've taken a lot of pride in that this year." Against Rangely, quarterback Keenan Bruchez completed 13 passes for 170 yards and three touchdowns. Senior Tyson Letlow caught all three scoring passes. Junior Brandon Ford had 10 carries for 61 yards and two touchdowns. Freshman Coy Letlow had three carries for 20 yards and a score. The other Hayden touchdown came later in the game, when sophomore Sam Kopsa intercepted Rangely's quarterback and returned the ball 32 yards to score.
"I've been trying to debate that," he said. "They always have tough running backs. We were able to stop their running game last year and force them to pass. We will have to do the same thing this year."
Kickoff between Hayden and Paonia is at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Hayden High School. Friday's game is homecoming for the Tigers and pits two unbeaten potential league champions against each other.
Last year, Hayden traveled to Paonia and blanked the Eagles on their homecoming.
"I'm sure they are thinking about that," Baumgartner said.
Hayden (3-0 overall, 1-0 in league) got off to a great start in Western Slope League play with a 50-0 defeat of Rangely on Sept. 16. Paonia (3-0, 1-0) also won its league opener, 26-9, against Grand Valley.
Soroco hosts Grand Valley at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
The Tigers' starters haven't played three quarters in a game this season because of their lopsided wins, but Baumgartner expects the starters to play 48 minutes Friday.
Hayden's starting defense has yet to give up a point, and the starting offense has outscored its opposition, 96-0, in the first half. The Tigers hope to turn the Eagles into a passing team Friday, but Paonia has the unenviable task of figuring out how to contain Hayden.
The Tigers are averaging 378 yards a game -- 182 yards rushing and 196 yards passing.
"We haven't been in that situation yet," Baumgartner said about being forced to pass the ball.
Judging by senior quarterback Keenan Bruchez's statistics -- 32-of-41 for 464 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions -- it might not be in Paonia's best interest to find out.
-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley, call 871-4208 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org