Steamboat Springs Sailors football players will face their first true challenge of the season today when they travel southwest to Grand Junction to face the No. 4-ranked Palisade Bulldogs at 7 p.m at Stocker Stadium.
Steamboat, 4-0, enters the game as the eighth-ranked team in the state and packs an offense that averages 47 points per contest.
Stewart Beall, who led Steamboat with 180 yards rushing against Glenwood Springs last week, returns as the starting fullback for the Sailors.
Quarterback Rusty Eck, who has thrown for more than 300 yards this season, also brings a powerful running attack to Grand Junction. Eck averages 11.5 yards per carry and has run for more than 240 yards through the first four games.
The Sailors have dominated each of their opponents thus far but have been questioned by some about the caliber of opposition they have faced so far. Tonight, however, Steamboat has an opportunity to hush the critics when the team takes on 3-1 Palisade.
The 3A match between the Sailors and Bulldogs is sure to be full of energy. Palisade averages 29 points per game and looks to end its homecoming week with a big league victory over Steamboat. The Sailors, who are 1-0 in the league, are in a four-way tie for first place, with Palisade also at 1-0.
For the Bulldogs, the offense is led by junior quarterback Josh Roseberry, who has thrown for 600 yards this season. Junior running back Chad Kelley has 400 yards rushing, and senior fullback Donnie Gates has 350 yards on the ground.
Like Steamboat, Palisade brings a balanced attack on offense. Defensively though, a huge discrepancy lies in the number of points allowed by both teams. The Bulldogs have given up nearly 18 points per game, while the Sailors hold an impressive 3.75 average against opposing offenses. Steamboat has two shutout victories on the year: wins over Middle Park and Glenwood Springs.
Palisade runs a pro formation on offense and will look to throw to senior split end Tim Miller and senior tight end Mark Blanchard, who have combined for 14 receptions on the year.
Sailors coach Mark Drake knows his team will face its toughest match of the year against the Bulldogs tonight. Drake said Palisade has a solid team with a number of big players up front. The Bulldogs' largest player weighs 308 pounds.
Palisade's main strengths, Drake said, are its size and power, which pave the way for the running and passing game.
The Sailors will try to disrupt the Bulldogs' offense with an experienced defense that includes nine senior starters. Senior linebacker Blake Julian leads the team with 24 tackles, and fellow linebacker Jamie McKelvie, also a senior, has 23.
The defense returns starting tackle Tristan Covillo this week. He tore the meniscus in his left knee against Highland on Sept. 15. Senior safety Ryan Wattles also will start for the Sailors, returning from a hip injury he suffered against Salida on Sept. 8.
Bulldogs coach Todd Casebier said his team will seek to slow down the Sailors' high-scoring offense.
"They're the best team we've had to play," Casebier said. "We know their offense has been tremendous, scoring 47 points per game. That's just outstanding football."
Though the Bulldogs play the Sailors during Palisade's homecoming week, the team will be concentrating solely on shutting down Steamboat, Casebier said.
"More importantly than homecoming, it's a league game for us," Casebier said. "We know Steamboat is the team to beat right now in our league. We feel if we can beat them, we have a shot to win the league."
Wattles, who was watching film of a recent Palisade game in the locker room on Wednesday, said he and his teammates would be pumped for the match.
"They'll be playing tough, it's their homecoming," Wattles said. "But, I really think we can go in there and play and beat them.
"They're definitely a beatable team," Wattles said. "We'll show them what they should be ranked."
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