Steamboat Springs When Byers football coach David Dodge brought his team to Hayden three years ago, he hit a wall. The Tigers all but shut down the Bulldogs, forcing them to go to a one-trick-pony passing attack.
"The first time we saw Hayden, all we could do was throw - we threw the ball 54 times," Dodge said of what ended in a 41-21 first-round playoff loss.
"We did what we could, and, over the last couple of years, we've tried to evolve to be a more balanced team," said Dodge, who hopes for a different outcome when Byers (9-1) and Hayden (8-2) face off in a state quarterfinal rematch at 1 p.m. Saturday in Byers.
What the Bulldogs have become is one of Class 1A's most potent offenses, highlighted this season by senior running back James Maes, who has rushed for 1,062 yards, and freshman quarterback Jordan Dodge, who has passed for 1,261 yards and 17 touchdowns.
"They do I-sets and have a power run and can also go shotgun and spread it out - they're pretty 50-50," Hayden head coach Shawn Baumgartner said.
In contrast to Byers' evolution in adding a rushing component, Hayden has gone the other direction - focusing almost exclusively on a rushing attack anchored by running backs Russell Waugh and Coy Letlow - since the 2004 postseason when quarterback Keenan Bruchez lead the Tigers with nearly 2,000 passing yards.
Now Hayden recognizes its need to mix things up on offense to match Byers.
"Against Sanford, the problem was they'd stack 11 players in the box and bring their safeties in," Hayden assistant coach Bob Harris said. "We've got to have some timely throws."
Sam Kopsa, a senior receiving threat who lines up at tight end and wide receiver for the Tigers, said the team has been addressing the need.
"Last night, all we did was short, quick outs and deep fades, but we need some work," Kopsa said before Wednesday's practice. "The JV defense is doing a good job keeping (practice) intense."
Dodge still sees a "complete team" in Hayden and knows his senior-dominated lineup - he starts 10 of them on either side of the ball - will have to be ready.
"I think that playing Limon close and beating Burlington was big for our kids, and, after those two contests, they felt they could play with anyone," Dodge said, "but also that anyone could beat you.
The Tigers "have offensive and defensive lines that play off the ball; they have speed and their linebackers flow well. I think we're evenly matched - it will come down to who doesn't make one mistake, a turnover or a big play on special teams."
Baumgartner knows the bottom line is that the Tigers must "capitalize on every opportunity."
Baumgartner and Harris can consider Byers' first-round 18-13 win against No. 13 Sargent - which was shut out by the Sanford team Hayden beat, but they know a win means flawless execution when opportunities arise.
"It's a challenge to our line; they're giving away some size and experience," Harris said. "But this is when it gets fun - you reach down in there and get 'er done."
A Tigers' win would mean a state semifinal game Nov. 17 in Hayden, if No. 1 Akron beats No. 9 Peyton.
The Tigers depart today for a final practice in Denver before the game.