His teammates hope that Nielsen's leadership — and play — can help them successfully navigate the 3A playoffs, and at least during the first round on Friday, his play was a big factor in the Dons' 35-20 victory over Morgan (7-3).
Nielsen had three rushing touchdowns in the first half, and finished with 84 yards on 13 carries. He wasn't the only Don that had a stellar game on the ground.
Another senior leader, Christian Taele, found the end zone twice — including a third-quarter touchdown run while lining up as quarterback — and ended the game with 129 yards on 19 rushes.
Taele ended up under center for just one play — while Nielsen was shaking off a leg cramp — but he said he was mentally prepared for whatever the situation called for.
"I was ready for anything," Taele said. "I knew I needed to find the end zone, but if I needed to, I would have passed it. It probably wouldn't have been pretty, though."
For that one play midway through the third quarter, Taele did, in fact, find the end zone, rumbling 34 yards. He later added a 19-yard scoring run that sealed the win, and added 4.5 tackles and a half a sack on defense.
Spanish Fork (8-3) scored on three of its first four possessions, moving the ball with ease not only on the ground, but also through the air. Nielsen totaled 256 yards (while throwing an interception) on 13-of-21 passing.
"Hayden's got good instincts," Spanish Fork head coach Matt Christensen said. "He usually makes the right decisions, and he can both throw the ball and run it. He's a dual threat."
Nielsen's biggest — and most efficient — recipient was Andy Perkins, another senior showing the way with exceptional play. The tight end tallied 104 yards on just four receptions.
The Spanish Fork defense — who was able to somewhat correct some sloppy first-half play — got praise from their coach after the game.5 comments on this story
"I thought our defense did well tonight," Christensen said. "Colin (Argyle) has been our defensive leader all year, and he had a great game."
Yet another senior, the linebacker Argyle certainly made his mark, finishing with 9.5 tackles (four for yardage loss), 2.5 sacks and a tipped pass.
Now past the first round of the postseason, Christensen knows it will only get tougher from here.
"All the teams left (in 3A) are really good," he said. "It's going to be some good football."