Steamboat Springs There are things far more important than losing a high school football game.
Just don't tell that to the Steamboat Sailors, who left Gardner Field Friday night red-eyed and grim after a devastating 18-7 loss to the Rifle Bears.
Dreams of an undefeated season melted away in the final minute of the game when Bears quarterback Ryan Whittington finally found a way past the Sailors defense for a touchdown that put Steamboat two scores down with too little time left. Instead of Steamboat, the Bears are the Western Slope's only undefeated team in league play.
Friday's loss puts the Sailors at 5-1 in the league, tied with Palisade for second place.
Friday's loss makes next week's game all the more important. Only three teams from the conference will gain a berth in the state playoff round. Steamboat must win against Delta, 4-2 in league play, next week to lock up one of those playoff spots.
"It puts our backs against the wall," Sailors coach Mark Drake said. "It's a must-win game. We've got to do our job next Friday."
While the Sailors defense held the Bears to a single touchdown until the fourth quarter, the Sailors offense was struggling to move the ball on the Bears' defense.
With one field goal and one touchdown in the final four minutes of the game, Rifle broke open a 7-7 stalemate to ensure they were the team with the 6-0 record in the Western Slope Conference.
Unable to get their running game going and with a passing game that was essentially nonexistent, the Sailors were held to a lone score in the second period.
The offense finished with just 101 yards, all of it on the ground. Star running back Joey Marias managed just 11 yards.
Offensively, we couldn't put things together," Drake said. "(The offensive line) couldn't sustain its blocks. They beat us in the trenches."
The Sailors trailed just 10-7 with 3:21 left when Marias returned a kickoff to the 50-yard line. But the Sailors couldn't take advantage of the opportunity. On fourth-and-6, quarterback Tanner Barr threw a pass intended for Adam Grimes that was instead intercepted by the Bears' Jason Enewold.
That interception set the Bears at the Sailors' 45-yard line.
Whittington secured the win when he charged past three Sailors defenders on a 29-yard carry before Ray Banning wrapped him up at the 1-yard line. Whittington scored on the next play.
"We didn't have a whole lot of offense. I don't know what happened in the first three quarters," Whittington said. "(In the fourth) we finally got a drive together and scored."
With just 45 seconds left, the Sailors' last hope for a touchdown died when Barr threw his third interception of the night.