Playoff fight

Hayden, Meeker battle for last league playoff spot

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— One win.

That's all Hayden needs to guarantee a spot in the Class 1A playoffs when they take on Meeker at 7 p.m. today. If the Tigers lose, their playoff future is in the hands of a selection committee that will pick the final four teams.

"The winner of this game is going to be sitting in second place and guaranteed that playoff spot," Hayden coach Shawn Baumgartner said. "It would be nice to control your own destiny. It's definitely going to make your weekend a lot better if you know you are in, rather than waiting on Sunday for that phone call."

Meeker, however, is no pushover.

The Cowboys (6-2, 4-1 in league play) are tied with the Tigers (7-1, 4-1) for second place in the Western Slope League standings, and they feature one of the most dynamic playmakers in the conference.

Cowboys quarterback Joe LeBlanc has accounted for more than 1,600 yards of offense this year. His 753 yards on the ground are second on the team to running back Kurtis Dunbar (1,068 yards). Baumgartner said the key to slowing down the Cowboy attack will be controlling LeBlanc and the veer option offense.

"He's a real threat both running and passing," Baumgartner said. "We're going to try to do a few different things to make him pitch the ball and get the ball out of his hands."

Offensively, the Tigers will continue to rely on their dominating running game. Coming into the game, Hayden has rushed for more than 2,300 yards and scored 29 touchdowns on the ground. A majority of the yards have come from Coy Letlow (1,363 yards) and Brandon Ford (562 yards), but Baumgartner pointed to the emergence of running back Russell Waugh as a key part of Hayden's offense.

Waugh rushed for 36 yards on eight carries in a 28-14 loss against Grand Valley two weeks ago. Before Waugh left the game with a knee sprain in the second half, Hayden was up 7-6.

Last week against Rangely, in a 40-12 win, Waugh had nine carries for 53 yards and a touchdown.

With Waugh emerging as a running threat, Baumgartner said the Tigers offense has become more dynamic.

"It's huge. He really adds that extra dimension when he's out there," Baumgartner said. "Defenses can't just focus on Coy or Brandon."

After suffering its first loss against Grand Valley, Baumgartner said he was pleased with the way his team responded against Rangely. He said the team has regained its swagger this week.

"You go into a game like this and you have to play with confidence within yourself, and if you don't, you're setting yourself up for failure," he said. "It takes confidence to win those big games ... you have to have confidence because Meeker is a really good team. They are really well-coached. We need to play our game week-in and week-out. We talk about being our best, and that's what I expect (today)."

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