Hayden lost, 28-17, on Friday night, falling to 1-1 on the season at the hands of the No. 1 ranked team in the state, Dayspring Christian. The Tigers took a lead into the fourth quarter but couldn't blunt a long Eagle drive or answer after falling behind.
Hayden In the end, it was an odd sense of peace that prevailed for the Hayden High School football team. That at ease was the end result of a flurry of emotions than ran through the Tigers as they filed off Friday night’s field with frustration and excitement, pride and agony surfacing as exhausted smiles.
Hayden lost the game, falling at home 28-17 to state No. 1 Dayspring Christian. But the Tigers forced the Eagles to dig deep, holding a lead on the defending state champs into the fourth quarter.
The team may be 1-1, but No. 4 Hayden ended Friday night’s game convinced that it could go toe to toe with the very best in the state, and even in a losing effort, that was a relief.
“This was a complete learning experience for us. It was a great level of competition that we needed to see,” Hayden coach Shawn Baumgartner said. “A play or two here or there and it could have been a different ball game.”
If the Tigers went home in a second-guessing mood, they may not have gotten much sleep. That’s how close they were on multiple occasions to taking the game from Dayspring.
Hayden settled for a short Mark Doolin field goal on a first-quarter trip to the red zone, going up 3-0, then gave the lead up midway through the second after dynamite Dayspring quarterback Kylar Mai helped his team convert 4th-and-13 and 3rd-and-9 situations.
Dayspring marched 68 yards in seven plays in 1 minute and 13 seconds without a timeout to take a 14-10 lead with 44 seconds remaining in the first half.
The Eagles then took the lead for good with a numbing 70-yard, 18-play drive in the fourth quarter. On that journey, which made the score 20-17 with 9:08 to play, they got 9 yards on a 3rd-and-8, 11 yards on a 3rd-and-10, 4 yards on a 3rd-and-2 and into the end zone on 4th-and-9.
“I was just trying to be calm and composed so I could make the passes,” Mai said. “They were firing off the ball very well and our intensity wasn’t as good as it could have been. We came back, and we were firing in the second half, though.”
Hayden, too, converted in some key moments, particularly after that late first-half Dayspring touchdown. With just 44 seconds to work, Doolin flew for a 50-yard return on the kickoff. He then added another 37 yards two plays into the drive with a pass to Aaron Cramer.
Cramer had slipped behind his defender and scampered down the line as the home crowd erupted. He was tackled at the 2 yard line, but Doolin rushed in from two yards out for his second touchdown on the day, officially putting the top-ranked Eagles on upset alert and sending his team to the locker room up, 17-14.
“We were throwing short passes, and that was opening up our run,” Doolin said. “They blitzed more in the second half, and it started getting to me.”
Hayden may have proven it belongs, but Dayspring didn’t flinch at the challenge and won the game by stonewalling Hayden’s last deep drive. The Tigers went with a quarterback sneak on 4th-and-2 from the 15 yard line.
Had Hayden been able to answer that 4th-down bell the way Dayspring did its opportunities, the Tigers would have been poised to take the lead late in the fourth quarter. Instead, the play was poorly executed, and Doolin didn’t come close.
“We were trying to get up in a hurry-up mode and catch them, but instead, we went through our whole cadence,” Baumgartner said about the sneak. “It was little things like that, and they added up.”
On Friday night, it was those kind of things that made the difference, but in the end, Hayden seemed at peace with the fact it was only feet and seconds that separated it from No. 1, not miles and hours.