If you go
What: Hayden football (4-3, 1-2) at Meeker (4-3, 2-1)
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Meeker High School, 550 School St., Meeker
1A Western Slope League
Team Overall League
Hotchkiss 6-1 4-0
Paonia 5-3 3-1
Meeker 4-3 2-1
Hayden 4-3 1-2
West Grand 4-3 0-3
Rangely 1-6 0-3
Steamboat Springs No matter the playoff scenario, one thing will be clear tonight when the Hayden football team travels to take on Meeker in a 7 p.m. game. If the Tigers are to take part in the playoffs this year, they have to win.
Hayden coach Shawn Baumgartner said he takes some confidence from the fact that his team has been here before. The Tigers had to win their last two games a year ago to guarantee a playoff berth.
But things aren't quite the same in 2008. The Tigers again must win their final two games, but they are fighting for one of four statewide wild card spots. Last week's loss to Hotchkiss ruled the Tigers out of the guaranteed playoff slots that comes with a first or second place finish in the Western Slope Conference. Instead, Hayden's fate will be decided by a board of administrators from the state's six leagues.
"Ultimately, we all know the playoffs start right now for us," Baumgartner said.
The wild card spots are allocated based on strength of schedule, strength of conference and a team's record through its last five games.
That five-game stretch doesn't exactly look good for the Tigers, who have dropped two of their last three. With wins against Meeker and next week West Grand, the Tigers could go a long way toward shoring up their tournament resume, however.
That process starts tonight, when Hayden may be looking in a mirror. Meeker finds itself in the same situation and needs a win to bolster a playoff push.
"It's a pretty important league game for us, and it will be the same for Hayden," Meeker coach Shane Phelan said. "They always have an awful good bunch up there and have put it to us for several years. We hope we can give them a little better game this year."
The Cowboys are coming off their largest win of the season, a 39-point smack down last week against Rangely.
An experienced set of offensive skill players has helped the team to a 4-3 record. Quarterback Tyler Matrisciano was slated to lead Meeker's diverse offense, but he blew his knee out in the first week of the season. Since then, junior Colton Brown has emerged, packing a strong arm and the ability to run.
"Colton stepped up and has done a nice job for us. He throws the ball pretty well and is improving every week," Phelan said.
Phelan said that thanks to Brown's success, Meeker has moved the ball with a variety of offensive looks, everything from power running to the option.
The option in particular could prove especially nauseating to a Hayden team that struggled against a similar offense last week at Hotchkiss.
"We're going to have to play a really solid game," Baumgartner said. "They can do a good job spreading you out across the field, and (Brown) can throw when he needs to.
"Our focus right needs to be winning these next two games to get a wild card. We know we still have a chance to get in, and that's what we're concentrating on."