Hayden football loses game, not pride Friday night
Hayden — It shows up in the division standings as a loss, and in some ways, that’s all that matters.
The Hayden High School football team turned the ball over four times Friday night, turned the ball over on downs three more times and failed to convert on a game-deciding two-point conversation in the fourth quarter. It all added up to a 15-14 loss to Rangely, a frustrating loss, yes, but a loss all the same.
“This is a really tough thing to do,” Panthers coach Paul Fortunato told his raucous team after the game. “It’s really tough to come into Hayden and win a football game.”
In some ways, that was all that mattered.
In other ways, however, it didn’t seem to matter much at all.
It rained, sleeted and snowed Friday night in Hayden, and a bone-chilling cold set in so strongly players struggled to hold onto the ball. Hayden and Rangely fought the grittiest of battles in those elements, and when it was over, no matter the impact to postseason plans, even the Tigers didn’t much feel like losers.
“The true character of our team really came out tonight,” coach Shawn Baumgartner said. “We showed what we’re made of.”
The story Friday night’s boys will tell when they’re old men unfolded as the evening wore on, but the game was decided in the first four minutes and seven seconds.
Hayden muffed a punt and turned the ball over twice in that span and Rangely converted two of those opportunities into touchdowns, taking a 15-point lead barely four minutes into the game.
Things were unraveling fast for Hayden, a team still reeling from a gut-wrenching loss the weekend before to its rival.
The Tigers were without their two most-used offensive weapons, Dan Engle, who didn’t suit up, and Greg Frentress, who left with an injury in the first quarter. At one point, five Hayden starters were down with injuries.
Quarterback Isaac Bridges tried to shoulder the load, but even he was limping badly as the game neared half, wincing with every run, but sitting out only one offensive play.
He wasn’t always great, throwing three interceptions, two deep in Rangely territory. Still, in the midst of the storm, he helped power Hayden, at times almost singlehandedly. He carried the ball 29 times for 121 yards.
The Tigers improvised to deal with the injuries. Linemen played receiver. Receivers subbed in at running back. Bridges many times was left pointing out where his teammates were supposed to line up before calling for the snap.
Finally, the Tigers got on the board in the second quarter. Bridges dashed in for a 4-yard touchdown, making it 15-8.
“Isaac Bridges, he grew up as a player, he grew up as a person and he grew up as a leader tonight,” Baumgartner said. “He’s the quarterback that anyone wants running their team.”
He got help. Receiver Sam Skof came up big despite a limp of his own, catching seven passes for 79 yards, and running back Jack Redmond, seemingly the only ball carrier entirely healthy, seized the opportunity, rushing for 41 yards on nine carries.
At the same time, the Tigers tightened up on defense, allowing just four nonpenalty first downs in the entire game.
“After losing all the balls, all the interceptions, coming back like that was amazing,” Bridges said. “We had a lot of fight in us.”
The walking wounded Tigers nearly pulled off a win, too. Midway through the fourth quarter, Skof made a great catch at the 1-yard line and Bridges ran it in for a touchdown on the next play, pulling the Tigers within one. The two-point conversion pass fell to the grass, however, and though it got the ball twice more, Hayden never seriously threatened.
“Every kid that stepped on the field tonight stepped up and played way beyond the ability they’ve ever shown,” Baumgartner said. “You look back and think about how they scored two touchdowns with the ball inside the 30. But, going down 15-0, with all our injured guys, we could have shut it down.”
The loss drops the Tigers to 2-3 on the season and 0-2 in division play.
Those weren’t the facts that lingered afterward, however. Hayden lost, but on a cold, wet Friday night, it found nothing to hang its head about.
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