Routt County bragging rights on the line for Hayden, Soroco football teams
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — It doesn’t matter how you walk into a rivalry game; it’s how you walk out.
It’s unlikely that either Hayden — 3-5, 1-4 — or Soroco — 5-3, 2-3 — will make playoffs, although, a win for the Rams could make a small case for a 6-3 team that’s played three teams in the state’s top 10.
But like all traditional rivalries — the Buckeyes versus the Wolverines, the Rolling Tide versus War Eagle or the Sooners versus the Longhorns — the theme remains the same: it’s about wearing the champion crown for a year, until the next meeting.
“Bragging rights are important to the kids,” Soroco head coach Dick Dudas said.
The game of 8-man football is dicey: one missed tackle could lead to a 60-yard touchdown run. Missed coverage can give a receiver the open field on a deep pass.
Then there’s the kick and punt returns, which can often turn into a scoring opportunity. Football scores turn into basketball numbers. Injuries mean suiting up the JV players, and the game could go anywhere.
Hayden, the underdog of the matchup, hopes to accomplish a win on enemy soil.
“It’s been a longstanding rivalry between Hayden and Soroco,” Hayden head coach Matt Linsacum said. “We have lost to them four years in a row. It means a lot to our seniors to try to get a win. They understand this is their last opportunity to make up for all those losses these last three years.”
The Rams started their year on a five-game winning streak before falling to No. 9 Vail Christian, No. 3 Rangely and No. 1 West Grand.
Currently ranked at No. 18 in the RPI standings, the Rams are outside of qualifying for playoffs in the top 16.
From the beginning of the season, Dudas has emphasized that the team feels a void, losing 13 kids from last year’s team, which made the state semi-finals.
“We knew we had a lot of work to do,” Dudas said. “We got off to a start against an easier schedule, which allowed us to grow, but we also picked up some bad habits that became glaringly obvious.”
Defense has been a struggle for the Rams this season, which lacks the size they had previously. But, there’s also plenty of rookie mistakes.
The defensive players have played too high in their stances, where the lower man wins. Against lesser opponents, Dudas said the Rams were able to stand up and get away with less-than-ideal blocking and tackling.
In addition, the Rams lost Kody Logan, their top defensive player, to a knee injury three and a half weeks ago.
“After that, we were burnt by two kickoff returns up the middle,” Dudas said.
As head coach, Dudas takes the blame on some of his strategies. His new defensive and offensive schemes were too complicated to produce the success he had hoped for.
The offense this year put star running back Jace Logan in the shotgun, while in previous years, he could line up in any position, throwing off the opponents. It was less obvious where he would go, and also, when the Rams would use him.
But Logan has remained a threat, rushing for 2,276 yards and 36 touchdowns on 207 carries. He now leads the defense with 73 tackles.
Other key players for the Rams include sophomore Jesse Koler, who has 319 yards on 41 carries, and senior Jesse Amrein with 243 yards on 180 carries. Amrein has also amassed 55 tackles this season.
Senior Kane Williams ties Jace Logan for the most sacks on defense with two. Williams also has tallied 41 tackles.
While the Rams have experienced three straight weeks of losses, Dudas remains confident, unable to remember the last time he lost to Hayden while on the Rams coaching staff.
“We respect them. They’re always a strong opponent,” Dudas said. “It’s usually a contest of will as it is with anything else — both sides have talent. It’s just mistakes play a big part of it also.”
The Tigers also have had a rebuilding year under a new head coach. Despite the losing record, the Tigers are coming off a 74-8 victory over Rocky Mountain Lutheran.
“That means everything going into this week,” Linsacum said. “We talked about how we needed that win going into this big Soroco game. That’s the closest we’ve had to a full team all year because of injuries and other things that have gone on.”
Linsacum said the team has averaged somewhere between one to two players out every game due to injury, which is substantial for an 8-man team.
“We had a lot of young kids that filled in, and they had to be that person we could lean on,” Linsacum said. “They did a good job of doing that, and our older kids respected that, knowing it was not ideal.”
The leadership on the Tigers’ team has grown through a season of hardship.
Senior Daylon Frentress has 750 yards rushing for eight touchdowns and 47 yards receiving for one touchdown. He also remains the two-point conversion leader with seven.
Senior Patrick Hunter also is a key offensive player with 256 yards rushing for three touchdowns and 43 yards receiving for two touchdowns.
The two also have a combined four returned kicks for touchdowns.
Senior Justin Fry commands the defense with 71 tackles, including 23 solo tackles and one sack. Hunter Hatcher leads the team with two sacks.
While physical adversity has played a role, the team also felt the weight of two community tragedies. Hatcher’s mother, an avid supporter of the Tigers, passed away the week of the Tigers game against Simla.
A little over a week later, head wrestling coach Chad Jones died leading up to the game against Plateau Valley. Many of the football athletes were products of the wrestling program.
“Those two back to back was kind of crazy — that played a huge role in our attitude,” Linsacum said. “The kids have done a good job of hanging in there for what was going on.”
For Hayden, this year’s rivalry isn’t just about the wins and losses but knowing how much they’ve played through and who they’re playing for. It would be a storybook-ending to a season of adversity, lighting a spark for the town in west Routt.
“I know our kids are chomping at the bit to play Friday night,” Linsacum said. “They’ve had enough practice. They’ve been serious and focused, but they just want to play.”
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