Duking it out
Soroco will win
History suggests the Soroco High School football team doesn’t have a chance. The Rams didn’t come within three touchdowns of Hayden in any of the four times the cross-county rivals played before the annual series ended in 2008 with Soroco’s drop to 8-man football.
Hayden’s a proud football town with a proud football tradition. History is on Hayden’s side.
The Rams made me a believer, though, and there are two reasons: Ian Palyo and Ryan Jeep.
That’s not to say I envision Palyo or Jeep scoring the winning touchdown or making the winning play. The two are just cogs in Soroco’s offensive machine, talented sure, but pieces rather than “the answer” when compared to receivers like AJ Anderson and Matt Regan and running backs like Keenan Bradshaw — not to mention the irreplaceable Nic Paxton.
Palyo’s a 5-foot-7, 228-pound junior, and Jeep is 6-6 239-pound junior.
Offensive line was the big question mark when Soroco entered this season. It didn’t take a prophecy to predict the team would have offensive firepower, but a jittery offensive line can ruin everything in no time. Running backs could be blasted in the backfield forcing Paxton into what, in previous seasons, has been his Achilles heel: bad passes and turnovers.
Palyo and Jeep could go miles to building that offensive line. Palyo is a fullback who simply rumbles — sorry, it’s just the best, perhaps the only, word to describe it — when handed the ball.
Jeep has the frame of an all-state football player, no matter where he’s lined up. His size alone is enough to make him a dominant tight end or receiver, where he’s lined up so far this season.
That Palyo and Jeep have been allowed to display those offensive skills at running back and receiver says everything about what coach David Bruner thinks of the offensive line. If it was the hole in the team some feared, they’d make for solid linemen. Instead, they’re a part of Soroco’s uber-depth at the skill positions.
The Rams’ offense proves too much thanks to that depth, and they get the long-awaited win against the Tigers, 35-24.
— Joel Reichenberger
Hayden will win
Full disclosure. I haven’t seen the Tigers play this year. I literally have no idea how they have adjusted to 8-man football. I have no idea whether they’re as explosive as the Rams.
But I do have six years of experience watching Shawn Baumgartner coach football.
You know what you get with him. He adjusts his schemes to fit his personnel as well as any coach.
There also is one key number: 13.
That’s how many seniors the Tigers have. Experience counts.
I’m not discounting Soroco. This is the best Rams team I have seen in a couple of years. Nic Paxton is a good quarterback. Physically, no one can match what Ryan Jeep brings to the field.
The Rams have outscored their opponents 183-6. They’ve been unstoppable. They’ve made the running clock — a sportswriters best friend — more common than a pickup truck in Oak Creek.
Of course, the team hasn’t played anybody. They’ve had more cupcakes than a birthday party.
That's the biggest reason I’m taking the Tigers.
Hayden played Dayspring Christian — the No. 1 team in 8-man — and lost 28-17. Hayden led that game in the fourth quarter. The Tigers were new to this 8-man gig and proved their own. They proved within two weeks that the team is a legit championship contender.
Soroco’s starters haven’t seen the second half.
There is no substitute for playing tough teams and tough late games. Hayden experienced it with Dayspring, and in what figures to be another tough game that comes down to the fourth quarter, the Tigers have a huge advantage.
Soroco has been very vanilla in its formations and play calling. Here’s betting the mad scientist of Routt County football, Rams coach David Bruner, has the Annexation of Puerto Rico up his sleeve.
But I have a hard time thinking Soroco can keep up with Hayden. The Tigers are deeper and also have playmakers.
The Tigers are at home. It’s homecoming week. Tigers 56, Rams 49.
— Luke Graham