Steamboat Springs The Hayden High School football team isn't one-dimensional anymore.
After years of looking for a passing game to complement a devastating running game, Hayden found its niche through the air Friday night, downing former league bully Grand Valley, 28-7.
Tigers senior quarterback Mitchel Doolin connected on six of 11 passes, threw three touchdowns, ran for another and picked off a pass on the Cardinals' final drive.
"We've always practiced passing, but we really started hammering it this week," Doolin said. "If we don't pass, they put nine guys in the box, and Coy (Letlow) can't run it."
Doolin connected with Billy Zehner on two touchdown passes and threw one to Treyben Letlow. He also scored midway through the fourth quarter on a 17-yard scramble to put the game out of reach.
"I think we kind of overlooked Hayden because they were in our league last year, and we handled them," said Grand Valley defensive coordinator Jeremy Tanner, who was filling in for head coach Mike Johnson. Johnson had surgery early Friday and was unable to make the game. "I told our kids the season starts over here, so we have to learn from it."
The turning point in the game came near the end of the second quarter. After Hayden had blitzed to a 14-point lead on two 29-yard touchdown passes by Doolin, Grand Valley started to seize the momentum.
It started when Cardinals quarterback Ryan Gallegos connected with Michael Shepard on a 52-yard pass to set up Grand Valley with a first-and-goal from the Hayden 4-yard line. But the Tigers stopped four straight Cardinals runs, including the last two from a yard out.
On the ensuing drive, Hayden gave itself some much-needed breathing room, thanks to several big carries from fullback Logan Foster, to head into halftime up 14-0.
"That was huge," Hayden coach Shawn Baumgartner said of the goal-line stand. "That was a huge goal-line stand. I think that gave us the momentum back."
The goal-line stand was just a part of what the Hayden defense was able to do. The Tigers allowed Grand Valley to gain only 200 yards of total offense. Take out the 52-yard pass and a 59-yard touchdown by the Cardinals' William Waugh in the fourth quarter, and the Hayden defense was about as stout as it gets.
Doolin provided the sealing touchdown and interception in the fourth quarter. After the pocket broke down, Doolin raced to the left pylon to give Hayden a commanding 28-7 lead. On the next Cardinals possession, he picked off a pass from Gallegos to essentially end the game.
"It felt really good to get the weight off my shoulders and some completions under my belt," Doolin said. "It panned out pretty well. It's probably my best game I've played."
Hayden next plays Dolores at 1 p.m. Saturday at Palisade High School.