Joel Reichenberger: 2012 was a season of opportunities for Hayden

Joel Reichenberger

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.

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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.

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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 didn’t go quietly Saturday from the 8-man football playoffs.

No, the Tigers were upset after their 44-28 loss on the road at Akron.

Sure, it didn’t come as a big surprise. The Tigers were the No. 14 seed in the 16-team field. Teams like that aren’t supposed to beat the No. 3 seed, right?

Plus, few teams in the state can boast Akron’s consistent success on the gridiron. The Rams won three consecutive state championships from 2006 to 2008 and played in 10 of 14 state championship games from 1996 to 2009.

Under current coach Brian Christensen, Akron has been nearly unbeatable, and Hayden is just one school on a long list of teams the Rams have run through en route to playoff glory.

On Saturday, it was obvious why Christensen and the Rams have been so successful. They’re a system program far more than a program that relies upon great athletes. The Rams' offensive backfield ducked down behind their offensive line pre-snap to an almost comical degree. They kept the ball low, spun in circles and handed it off seemingly 1,000 different ways. Their athletes are tough and hard to tackle, each playing a role that’s been played well before them, and will be played well after them.

It’s been the recipe for countless victories.

There’s no shame in losing that game.

Hayden, though, couldn’t hide its disappointment, one hollering player even proposing a return to 11-man.

I’m sure he was speaking in jest, but if anything, Saturday’s game was more proof that the 8-man elixir was good for Hayden football. Actually, the proof that 8-man is right for the town and the reasons the Tigers were fuming Saturday are one in the same.

Hayden was frustrated because it could have won the game. The Tigers could be getting ready this week for the next step, a state championship still the apple of their eye.

They played with an entirely different approach than Akron, running a spread offense that proved as potent, though not as consistent, as the Ram sit-n-spin.

Change a first down here or there, forget a early third-quarter interception that stopped a potentially momentum-shifting drive and, yeah, Hayden was right there, toe to toe with those Rams who have been dominating football for more than a decade.

That, in fact, was the story of Hayden’s season. They lost three games — Saturday’s to Akron; one to defending state champ, No. 1 seed and shocking upset victim Dayspring Christian; and one to league rival West Grand.

Hayden led in the second half of both regular season games, and lost those by a combined 15 points. Change a play here or there and it’s very easy to imagine a 9-0 Hayden squad entering the playoffs as one of the top two or three seeds and playing at home against one of the bracket’s weakest teams.

It’s hard to imagine Hayden being within 51 points of such an opportunity in 11-man football in Class 1A.

Saturday’s loss hurt for the Tigers because they absolutely had a chance to win the game. As John Mellencamp would say, "it hurt so good."

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