Road warriors

Hayden makes five-hour commute to take on Paonia in first game of league play

Melinda Mawdsley

— Imagine silence on a school bus.

Hayden opens league play this afternoon at Paonia, and coach Scott Parker is a firm believer that playing card games and singing campfire songs aren’t the best ways to spend the hours before kickoff.

“It’s a pretty quiet trip,” Parker said. “I like to have them concentrate on the game.”

With nearly five hours to review blocking assignments, routes and plays, the Tigers should be attuned to what the game plan is in the first real road trip of the season after earlier games against teams from nearby Moffat County and Steamboat Springs.

“It’s a heck of a road trip, too,” Parker said. “I’m glad it wasn’t the first game of the season.”

It doesn’t get any easier as the third game either. Paonia represents one of four new additions to the Western Slope League this year. Paonia, along with Rangely and Meeker, dropped down to 1A. Soroco came back to the league after a short hiatus.

Paonia is 1-1 after a narrow loss at Cedaredge and a close win over Hotchkiss, but coach Jeremy McCormick said people shouldn’t be quick to assume because his Eagles hail from a larger 1A school that they are necessarily a favorite for the league title.

“There’s a lot of people that think that,” McCormick said. “But I’ve coached teams at the 1A level that could beat 2A schools.”

From what McCormick has seen on tape, he’s impressed with Hayden’s running game and the speed from the Tigers’ linebackers.

Parker said the Eagles’ size stood out the most. “Their line is awful big,” he said. “But our line is awful quick, so we’ll try to offset that.”

Hayden comes into today’s game 2-0, scoring 38 points while surrendering just six, but injuries haven’t steered clear of Hayden’s roster. Parker said Alan Lighthizer, Kelly Bruchez and Bubba Stark are all banged up and sore. Lighthizer was forced out of the Sept. 7 win with a knee injury.

Still, Parker is pleased with what his team demonstrated during the two non-league games heading into today’s league opener at 1 p.m. at City Park in Paonia.

“You always want more time to prepare,” Parker said. “But I feel good about where we’re at right now. They say nonconference games don’t matter, but they do. Everything gets better when you win. Kids have a better week of practice and their attention is better.”

And with the league starting it needs to be. Mental miscues punished by running or a firm reprimand during non-league games might cost a team the playoffs now.

“We’re paying a lot more attention to detail, definitely,” Parker said.

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