Tigers' season ends
Hayden lost to Akron 55-6 in their semifinal playoff game Saturday.
Hayden In the past two months, the boys on the Hayden High School football team came together to raise their game a notch, transforming a team that dropped its Western Slope League opener to one capable of advancing further in the Class 1A 16-team playoff bracket than any team in school history.
On Saturday afternoon, the Tigers experienced what that next notch - and that next historic hurdle of a state title game - looks like.
The No. 1-ranked, defending state champion Akron Rams rolled over Hayden with nearly 500 yards of relentless rushing offense, winning 55-6. Akron extends its winning streak to 25 games and will face No. 2 Limon, who defeated No. 6 Wray, 23-21, in a rematch of the 2005 title game.
"We ran into a buzzsaw today," Hayden coach Shawn Baumgartner said.
At first it was hard to tell exactly what this polished and powerful Rams offense looked like. They wouldn't quit spinning around.
"I think (the offense) is distinctive because you don't really know what's going on," said Akron senior Jared Reid, who considers himself - and is listed on the roster as - another running back rather than the quarterback in Akron's deceptive, offset single-wingback offense.
By the time Hayden saw the misdirecting Akron offense for the first time, the Tigers were already down a touchdown. Joe McKay woke up the dormant legions of Rams fans who made the 300-mile haul to Hayden with a 79-yard return of the opening kickoff.
"I think they got in our heads on the first kickoff," said Hayden senior Aaron Haskins, who led the Tigers offense with 44 yards receiving.
Hayden looked like it would answer right back. On the Tigers second play from scrimmage, Mitch Doolin connected with Jake Walker to move into Rams' territory.
But Akron's fast defense forced a punt, and then its offense orchestrated a nine-play, 87-yard drive, with the Akron line opening huge holes for Dalton Jefferson to break into the Hayden secondary.
Akron stymied Hayden's next possession and answered with another scoring drive behind a big play from another apt back - this time Reid on a 59-yard carry - capable of whirling out of the shotgun snap and accelerating to open field.
Russell Waugh brought the Tigers right back into it by catching the ensuing kickoff, breaking to the left side and running the ball 82 yards back to put the Tigers on the board.
Down 20-6, Hayden's Levi Hallock brought the raucous hometown crowd, estimated at 1,000-strong, to its feet and its loudest cheers of the game when he dove on the Tigers' onside kick following the touchdown.
A 25-yard Haskins reception put the Tigers in prime scoring position, but they couldn't punch it in and missed an unprecedented field goal attempt.
"Our kids came out on fire, but once the momentum turns, it's hard to get back," Akron coach Brian Christensen said. "They got some back on that kickoff return, but fortunately the tide turned back.
"Hats off to Hayden, they had a heck of a year and are doing all the right things."
In the trenches
For the remainder of the first half, Hayden traded three consecutive three-and-outs with brief Akron possessions that resulted in touchdowns.
"That's the best team we've ever seen," Hayden senior tackle Brad Parrott said.
"They didn't hit all that hard, they were just fast and beat us off the ball - they won it in the trenches," Garrett Murchison added.
McKay and Jefferson combined for 303 first-half yards, with Akron's six first-half offensive drives averaging four plays and 68 yards apiece. Up 49-6, Akron played much of its second string in the second half, and while the Hayden defense would limit that group to only six points, the Hayden offense would not return to Akron territory.
At the game's conclusion, the tearful core of Hayden seniors exchanged handshakes to signify the end of the line for the school's first group to reach the playoffs every year of its high school career.
"The way we came together as a team - it's like a big family, we do everything together," Haskins said.
"This one stings right now, but two to three weeks from now, when you can reflect on the whole season - we did a lot of great things," Baumgartner said. "We know where we're at now and realize the work it will take to get to that next level, but we can look back and say that this was a great season for us."
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