Hayden Hayden football coach Shawn Baumgartner and his players know what's on the line in tonight's game against league foe Grand Valley.
A win, and the Tigers solidify their spot atop the 1A Western Slope League. A loss, and the Tigers (6-0, 3-0 in League play) most likely will find themselves bunched up with four teams, battling for three playoff spots down the stretch.
"It's been a game we've looked forward to all week," Baumgartner said. "We really have to stay focused. Grand Valley is a team coming in that needs this win. They got that little added incentive."
The Tigers are in first place in the league but are just one game ahead of Grand Valley, Paonia and Meeker.
"We could either really set ourselves to be on top with a few games left or we could be sitting in a three-way tie at the top of the conference," Baumgartner said.
As they have all season, Baumgartner said the Tigers will try to establish the run and control the clock. Hayden has 1,799 yards rushing, including 1,000 from sophomore Coy Letlow and 536 from fullback Brandon Ford. The Tigers also have scored 22 of their 25 touchdowns on the ground.
"Their backs are real physical runners," Cardinals coach Mike Johnson said. "All three backs (Letlow, Ford and Russell Waugh) pose a threat. You definitely have to make them pass the ball, and I'm not sure anyone has done that this year."
Offensively, the Cardinals (5-1, 3-1) pose the biggest threat Hayden has faced this season - the Tigers have allowed only five points a game. Grand Valley relies on a balanced attack with two of the most versatile players in the league. Quarterback Richard Gallegos (616 yards passing) and running back Danny Manzanares (929 yards rushing) have led a Cardinals team that has scored 25 points a game.
"Their running back is one of the best in the league." Baumgartner said. "We're going to have to contain him. He's really fast and really big. You're not going to completely shut them down offensively, you just have to contain them."
Against Grand Valley's defense, Baumgartner said he feels confident the Tigers will be able to move the ball. The Cardinals play a 3-5 defense, something the Tigers see every day in practice. They also ran against it last week when they played Dolores. In that game, Hayden had 229 yards rushing.
"It's something we're used to blocking," Baumgartner said. "We've had plenty of chances to see it."
With plenty on the line in the game, Baumgartner said he isn't concerned with how his relatively young team will play. Citing leadership from the upperclassmen, Baumgartner said the Tigers will be ready to play tonight.
"You don't have to get them fired up for it," he said. "Our seniors have been here before, and our juniors were freshman the last time we were undefeated. They understand the implications of this game, and we have confidence they'll play well."
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