Akron’s Levi Hottinger runs past Hayden’s Jordan Ferrier on Saturday. Hottinger was one leg of a varied offensive attack that eventually overran the Tigers, 44-28, and ended their season.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Akron’s Levi Hottinger runs past Hayden’s Jordan Ferrier on Saturday. Hottinger was one leg of a varied offensive attack that eventually overran the Tigers, 44-28, and ended their season.

Hayden good but not good enough in 8-man playoffs

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The players on Hayden's sideline erupt as Jordan Ferrier returns an interception for a touchdown late in the second quarter of Saturday's playoff game against Akron. The play gave the Tigers the chance to tie, but a quick touchdown on the Rams' ensuing possession meant the return was as close as Hayden would get to pulling off the upset.

— Hayden High School football senior Jordan Ferrier said he had been practicing, and on Saturday afternoon he had the venue he'd dreamed of to demonstrate his skills.

With his team trailing Akron, 16-8, late in the second half, he leaped up and hauled down an interception, managed to stay in bounds, then bob, weave, run and juke his way 35 yards and into the end zone.

He said he was driven by a promise his coach made, a free steak dinner for anyone who returns an interception for a touchdown. And he was driven by the prospect of Saturday being his final football game. Whatever his motivation, he represented the high tide for Hayden when he rolled across that goal line.

The Tigers, the No. 14 seeds in the Colorado 8-man football playoffs, were close, trading blows with No. 3 Akron throughout Saturday’s game. The Rams and their relentless offense — which packed just enough big plays — proved too much, however.

After Hayden closed to 16-14, Akron struck back on the very next offensive play with a 70-yard touchdown pass that paved the way to a 44-28 victory, ending Hayden’s season.

“We knew they were beatable,” Ferrier said. “We just died in the second half.”

Hayden moved the ball effectively through the air and, as the game wore on, running. But the Tigers had a few too many mistakes, and, outside Ferrier’s touchdown return, Akron limited the damage from its own mistakes.

The Rams shifty, powerful running game took control. Akron set the tone early when it turned to four ball carriers on its first four offensive plays. Then quarterback Jared Clarkson threw his first pass for 18 yards.

That drive ended in a touchdown, with senior Austin Spear plunging in from two yards. Levi Hottinger led the Rams in the game, rushing for 146 yards on 24 carries and catching three passes for 30 yards and a score. Spear finished with 67 yards on the ground and 89 as a receiver, scoring a touchdown with each discipline. No gain was more important than the 70 yards on a deep pass from Clarkson in the waning moments of the second quarter.

That play, with 50 seconds remaining before the half, left the Tigers deflated entering the locker room when only moments before they seemed in the game, perhaps even getting the better of the action.

Akron pulled away in the second half. Hayden quarterback Mark Doolin was intercepted deep in Ram territory, ending one promising drive early in the third. Akron, meanwhile, scored on its next three possessions with drives of 7, 9 and 11 yards, just the kind of grueling marches the Tigers could ill afford as the gap grew and the clock drained.

All those ball carriers ducked low in the backfield, and whichever one received the snap — it wasn’t always the quarterback — would spin and fake handoffs left and right, making figuring out who to tackle as mind numbing as a college entrance exam.

“We knew we had to weather the storm a bit,” Akron coach Brian Christensen said about the first half. “That’s what we did early on, and we knew we had to tighten our coverage up.”

Akron’s surge didn’t end Hayden’s offensive effectiveness, however. Doolin threw for 124 yards, completing 12 of 31 attempts. He also had 81 yards rushing. Tigers’ tailback Dan Engle found room to run in the second half, as well, and finished for 46 yards on six carries.

After being shut out in the third quarter, the team bounced back. Doolin ran in from 4 yards for one score, then found Aaron Cramer from 13 yards out for a second.

That success, however, only underlined the emotions that ran through the team as it filed off the field: In many ways, the Tigers were a match for the Rams. On Saturday, however, an upset wasn’t in the cards.

“Really, it came down to one or two plays here or there,” Hayden coach Shawn Baumgartner said. “I’m really proud of my guys. When we go back and look at this film, we’ll see some of the opportunities we missed but also all the good things we did. They were just a little better than us today.”

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

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