Hayden, Akron set for 8-man football playoffs

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— The Hayden High School football team learned firsthand in 2007 that Akron plays a tough, in-your-face style of football. The Rams and the Tigers met in Hayden in the semifinal round of the Class 1A football playoffs that year, and it was all Rams, all day as Akron rolled to a 55-6 victory that day. It returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, and the deluge didn’t stop.

Now, the teams will meet in the first round of the 8-man football playoffs, kicking off at 1 p.m. Saturday in Akron, and both teams are wondering what’s changed in the past five years.

On the surface, there are plenty of similarities.

Akron’s still a tough-as-nails squad more than capable of grinding its way down the field. Now, it turns to a young but tested backfield for that task. Levi Hottinger, a junior, has gotten the bulk of the carries, averaging 125 yards per game and more than 8 yards per carry. He’s scored 16 touchdowns on the ground this season and as the team’s second leading receiver has three through the air.

Senior Austin Spear, meanwhile, has seven touchdowns on the ground and six more receiving. Quarterback Jared Clarkson is only a sophomore, but he has rushed for more than 400 yards this year. His 863 yards passing only account for about 25 percent of the team’s total offense, but coach Brian Christensen said his quarterback’s arm has been an asset all season.

“We’ve become a team that can run and throw and be effective at both,” he said. “I wouldn’t say we’re balanced, but we do things that can keep the other teams off balance.”

Christensen said the team’s real improvement this season has come on the defense side, where he now has a unit that’s humming after learning the 8-man game. The team has racked up 16 interceptions and hasn’t allowed any team more than one meaningful touchdown since September.

Akron’s only loss came in the season’s fourth game and against the defending 8-man champ, Dayspring Christian, 33-30. Since then, no team has come within 20 of the Rams or held them to fewer than 40 points.

So, Akron’s still tough. Hayden’s hoping the similarities to 2007 don’t extend much beyond there.

There’s one good one left: a Doolin again will be under center for the Tigers. Mitch Doolin quarterbacked the team to its deepest-ever playoff run in 2007, and now younger brother Mark Doolin again has Hayden in the playoffs.

After that, Hayden’s hoping for a different outcome, from the opening kickoff onward.

Hayden went to the air often to get past Simla last week in the cross-divisional round of postseason play. Doolin tossed it 23 times, completing 14 passes and accounting for four touchdowns.

“He can throw the ball well, and I know he can run it well,” Christensen said. “He also has some receivers that catch it well. Hayden really has a nice blend of athletes.”

Only time will tell whether or not that blend meshes with Akron’s in a way different from the way it did five years ago.

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com

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