Tigers football looks to get back in win column

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If you go

What: Hayden (2-2) vs. Paonia (1-4)

When: 7 p.m. today

Where: Hayden High School

— There's nothing like coming home - or at least that's the hope the Hayden High School football team carries into tonight's homecoming game against Paonia.

The Tigers and the Eagles face off at 7 p.m. today in Hayden.

Both teams will be eager to snap losing streaks.

Hayden is coming off its second loss of the season, a 12-7 game it dropped a week ago against Dolores. Paonia, meanwhile, lost its fourth game in a row last week, falling, 15-12, to Hotchkiss.

"Our practices have been a little more upbeat and a little more intense," Hayden Coach Shawn Baumgartner said. "Hopefully we can go out and take care of business."

Hayden's defense has lived up to its preseason potential.

The Tigers have given up 12.5 points per game, the vast majority of that coming in a Week 3 loss at Grand Valley.

The key tonight will be executing on offense late in drives. The team led last week's contest 7-6 late into the fourth quarter but whiffed when presented several opportunities to extend that thin lead and secure the game.

Hayden couldn't convert on the fourth down while deep in Dolores territory late in the game, and the Bears responded by marching for the game-winning touchdown.

"We just have to learn to sustain those drives and stick the ball in the end zone," Baumgartner said. "We could get the ball deep in the red zone, (but) we couldn't put it in, and we have to find a way."

That Dolores game-winning drive proved crippling to the Tigers and, according to Baumgartner, marked their first step back this season.

"We felt we'd improved each week, then, last week, we didn't improve," he said.

Still, in a hectic homecoming week for student-athletes, he said his players have managed to find a focus that had been lacking.

They'll need it. Paonia is just 1-4, but it picked up that win by thumping Dolores, 46-14, to open the season. All of the other losses came in tight games, too, with the four defeats coming on a total of 13 points.

"It's taken somewhat of a toll, but we knew every game we played good enough to be in position to win," Paonia coach Craig Cerise said about the four straight losses. "Now, we're tired of saying, 'Man, we could have won that.'"

The squad is led by quarterback Casey Gillenwater, who's thrown for eight touchdowns and rushed for three more.

Running back Cody Clawson leads the team on the ground, with 230 yards on 54 carries.

The team is in its first year running the spread offense and at times has had struggles similar to Hayden's, by stalling out after long drives.

"Our strength has been our defense. Both our offense and defense are new this year, but our defense is definitely more settled in," Cerise said.

There still has been plenty enough offense to impress the Tigers and keep them working hard all week long in preparation for the game.

"They're a real tough team," Baumgartner said. "That quarterback is a real good thrower, and he reads the field well. They do a lot of one-step drops, and we have to try really hard to get pressure on him. We'll try to do some things up front to at least get in there so he doesn't just stand back there and pick us apart."

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