Steamboat Pilot & Today sports reporter and photographer Joel Reichenberger can be reached at 871-4253 or jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com.
Find more columns by Joel here.
Call me a Monkee, because I’m a believer.
That is, I almost always find a way to believe in local high school teams that I spend time covering. That’s one of the reasons I’m so surprised whenever I stumble across a score like one from Friday night.
A Steamboat Springs High School football team that was utterly helpless for more than two seasons? That rout of Battle Mountain didn’t surprise me.
Hayden losing to West Grand in 8-man football? That did.
So what does it mean?
Plain and simple, it may have just been one game and four points, but losing that game was bad news for the Tigers. Winning their six-team division is a huge advantage, and not just because it might mean a tiny trophy. In this circumstance, first place gives a team a comparatively good chance at making the 16-team, 8-man football postseason playoff bracket.
Allow me to explain. You probably should sit down for this. And grab someone with a statistics degree, because to contemplate 8-man football fates is to risk madness.
The top four teams from the Central Division — which includes Hayden, Soroco, West Grand, Vail Christian, Rangely and South Park — will face off against the top four teams from a Front Range division, the Nos. 1 vs. the Nos. 4 and the Nos. 2 vs the Nos. 3.
That division likely will be won by No. 3 Elbert, 6-0 and a state quarterfinalist a year ago, or by No. 8 Simla, 5-1 on the season and a state semifinalist last year. Kiowa, also 5-1 and ranked sixth in the state, could still win, but is more likely to finish second or third because it already lost to Elbert.
No matter how the chips fall, they will bring very tough matchups for three Central Division teams.
Pikes Peak Christian, 4-2 overall but 1-2 in its division, has been on both sides of lopsided games all year and looks likely to finish fourth in the Front Range division. No offense to the Eagles, but they would seem to represent a bit of a dropoff from the top three teams in their division.
Hayden can still cobble together some advantages for that cross-divisional game by securing second place and the resulting home game. They have to win what should be a snoozer this weekend against South Park, and in two weeks a stiffer test against Vail Christian.
I’m a believer, so of course I think the Tigers would have a good chance at home against one of the Black Forest Division big dogs. I also believe they’d rather play Pikes Peak Christian, with whom they share a common opponent this season. Pikes Peak trailed Belleview Christian at half before winning 52-44. Hayden beat Belleview Christian 70-24.
The volatile nature of the Central Division renders any chance of the Tigers finishing first both remote and intriguing.
The main problem — after, ya know, last week's loss to West Grand — is Vail Christian’s 30-6 loss to Rangely last weekend. The Saints entered undefeated but couldn’t handle the frequently defeated Panthers. That means if Hayden is to win out, Vail will have two losses and can’t play a part in a three-way tie for first. Hayden loses a tie with the West Grand Mustangs, thus Hayden has to hope West Grand loses its next two.
Of course, it’s entirely possible the Mustangs could lose their next two. They play Vail Christian, a team that has already confounded me more than once. Then, they play Soroco. The Rams will be playing for their playoff lives this weekend against Rangely but are as dangerous as any team in the league when they can protect their quarterback.
But it’s also entirely possible West Grand won’t slip up and that now that it has the easiest path to that No. 1 seed, it will hang on for dear life. Here’s why: West Grand started the season 0-3 and it lost lopsided games to each of the three scary teams on the other side of the bracket, Kiowa, Elbert and Simla. Maybe the Mustangs learned important lessons about toughness, perseverance and will power in those matchups. Or maybe they learned you do everything in your power not to play Kiowa, Elbert and Simla until you absolutely have to.