Just like an old-time Broncos-Raiders NFL rumble, nobody really wanted to be caught on the bottom of a pile-up last Friday night inside Fred Cook Memorial Stadium in Aztec.
And in seeking their first win in 2017 after two disappointments, the hosting Tigers - fittingly clad in all-black uniforms and helmets - didn't seem to mind being the villain to gain an advantage.
"There's a lot of room for improvement, no matter what," confessed AHS' Sebastian McNeal.
"It was a pretty dirty game the first half," said Bayfield senior Hunter Killough. "The refs started to control it in the second, but it got brutal in the first-punches down in the pile-and they got in our heads. And we let 'em get in our heads."
"I don't know if it was the weather or what, but it wasn't the best," senior Carl Heide said, referring to the first-quarter rain and lightning-which caused a half-hour delay 17 seconds into the clash, after the visitors' first play from scrimmage.
"We were talking back to these guys in the first half, which isn't our game...just didn't play our best."
There wouldn't be a Wolverine willing to really disagree with that assessment, particularly after AHS' Zach Taylor lugged in a 16-yard touchdown with 7:12 left in the first quarter. That capped an 84-yard drive prolonged when a Tiger punt deflected off BHS' Keyon Prior and was recovered, giving the locals 38 free yards of field position down to the Bayfield 36.
Aztec quarterback-kicker Cody Smith booted the extra point up and between the uprights, and just like that, the Wolverines had given up points for the first time this fall. That, and overcoming a ticker-tape parade of penalty flags in enemy territory would be all the motivation Bayfield needed to again operate as one of the Four Corners' most feared teams.
Four plays later, Heide came in right-to-left motion across the formation and virtually arrived at the ball just as quarterback Hayden Farmer took the snap. Quickly given the rock at full speed, Heide flew around left end and was off for a 58-yard score with 5:18 remaining.
Chris Mooney's point-after kick was blocked by big Jordyn Garcia, but a Tiger penalty gave the Wolverines a second chance. On a play which could have drastically rerouted momentum, Taylor intercepted Farmer's two-point pass attempt-preserving Aztec's 7-6 lead.
But AHS went three-and-out on its next series, and after a Smith punt netted only 17 yards out to the Aztec 42, a personal foul against the Tigers advanced Bayfield to the 27. Three plays later, Heide toted in a 10-yard TD and Farmer hit him with the conversion toss-putting BHS up 14-7 with 2:08 left.
Smith answered with a 3-yard keeper, and kicked the PAT to tie the game with 0:04 still left.
With backfield beast David Hawkins and lineman Ian Nelson benched, their right knees/legs either braced or beneath ice bags, things only got more difficult for the outsiders. Farmer's first pass in the second quarter ended up in the hands of Tiger Justin Black-his paws already warmed by several receptions out of Smith's hand-but Prior halted Aztec's ensuing possession picking off a Smith deep ball.
Penalties negated most of his return, but Bayfield persevered and would take a 21-14 halftime lead with a late 9-play, 80-yard drive punctuated by a 13-yard Farmer throw to Prior with 1:56 left.
Mooney then made the first of four unanswered extra points. After halftime the Wolverines ruled the roost-partially energized by Dawson Heide's goal-line interception of Smith, 73 seconds before intermission and immediately after Smith had hit Taylor for a threatening 66-yard gain.
"That was a life-saver!" stated a grinning Killough. "We're down here pressed up in the red zone again, and he made that pick and I was able to take a big, deep breath. That was good."
"Our coaches didn't yell; they just told us that we need to come out with composure," Carl Heide recalled, of the subsequent locker-room instructions, "and we came out better the second half."
Smith (28-of-44, 371 yards) quickly learned how much better, as Wolverines Wyatt Killinen and Daniel Westbrook sacked him on the Tigers' first third-quarter snap, and Ryan Phelps flattened him to stop the march and force Smith into punting.
Helped by a 59-yard Carl Heide carry, nearly identical to his long touchdown dash, Bayfield went 72 yards in only three plays and 75 seconds, with Killough carrying in a seven-yard score.
"David's a huge part of the team, it definitely hurt to have him down," Killough said. "But when I step in I just run hard, try to get my four yards a carry, and go from there, see if I can punch it in!"
Aztec's next drive ended in a punt netting just 18 yards, and from their own 41 the Wolverines went 59 yards in just three plays and 22 seconds, with Prior bursting through for a 17-yard TD and 3:46 left.
Aztec was then forced again to punt, and scored a minor morale boost when it was downed at the BHS 15 with 2:12 left in the third. Two plays later, Farmer (10-of-14, 231 yards) zipped a perfect pass to Dawson Heide, hitting the senior in stride for an 82-yard TD with 1:20 still to go.
Killinen and Cole Wood then swarmed Smith on the Tigers' very next offensive play, but Aztec kept hope alive and managed to push the ball to the Bayfield 13. With the final frame well underway, Killough sacked Smith for a five-yard loss, and a Smith incompletion then turned the ball over on downs.
Voraciously opportunistic, the Wolverines capitalized. Keeping the ball close to the ground, save for a key 30-yard Farmer toss to Dax Snooks, BHS drained a devastating 6:05 off the clock-covering the 82 yards in 11 plays, with the last a 3-yard Dylan Hilliker plunge.
Mooney's PAT clanged humorously off the upright, as if saying 'We could do more, but, nah.'
AHS would respond with a 10-play, 72-yard drive and 15-yard Smith-to-Kenny Grady scoring strike with 0:21 left. But even with Smith nailing the point after, they that laughed last didn't laugh best.
"We'd noticed a couple of their linemen starting to limp around, and we made sure to pick out those points and blitz those gaps," Killough said. "Coach 'Ski (defensive coordinator Mike Wnorowski) really has his eye on those things during the game, keeps everything in mind."
"And we just ran harder the second half; we calmed down and played Bayfield football."
Carl Heide finished with 122 yards on only seven carries, while Prior picked up 65 on eight and Killough 52 on ten. In helping 2A Bayfield improve to 3-0 overall, he was also credited with 17 total tackles, with Wood in on 13 and Phelps and Kirk Malone each making nine.
Kept out of the end zone, Black still snared an impressive 12 passes for 152 yards as 5A Aztec dropped to 0-3. Taylor finished with 123 yards on seven grabs and McNeal 60 on seven.
"We were moving it pretty good," said McNeal. "But I think what stopped us from moving it so well was that, when it turned into a tight game we got scared. And we tried to come back passing late in the game, and it didn't work out too well for us."
Following a well-deserved bye week, the Wolverines will next see action at home next Friday night for Homecoming versus 3A Durango-which shut out 6A Farmington Piedra Vista 29-0 last Saturday, setting the Demons up for Friday's invasion of 5A Farmington and the Scorpions' Homecoming Week.
"Got two pretty important players hurt, so hopefully the break will let them heal," said Heide.
"We know it'll be a good game; they've got a tough defense, a pretty good offense, kind of got going last week against Aztec," Killough said. "We'll be ready for them; any time you give Coach 'Ski two weeks to dissect an offense, you can bet we'll be ready."