Steamboat Springs Steamboat Springs ended a 10-year draught against Palisade when Joey Marias broke a 19-19 game open by running in a 48-yard touchdown with just two minutes left on the clock.
And, it was quarterback Tanner Barr who made sure the Sailors won 26-19 when he read the defensive pass coverage to intercept a Bulldogs' ball at around the 1:50 mark.
Barr's interception allowed the Sailors to hold onto the ball and run out the clock in what Sailors coach Mark Drake said was one of the best homecoming games at Gardner Field.
Coming off the field, Sailors wiped away tears after their fourth-quarter upset over the undefeated, No.4 ranked 3A school in the state. Not only was it 10 years since the 5-0 Sailors had won against the Bulldogs, but it followed last year's 36-33 emotional loss to Palisade at the Bulldogs' homecoming.
"It just has to be one of the greatest homecoming games I have ever been involved in," Drake said. "I am just so happy for the kids. They work so hard. It would have been a shame for them not to win the ball game."
Though the Sailors out gained the Bulldogs 405 to 341 in total yardage, it took until the last two minutes of the game for the Sailors to secure the win.
Two costly turnovers, missed extra points and a safety by the Bulldogs' defense had the Sailors down 16-12 heading into the fourth quarter.
But it was Marias who added the fourth-quarter spark when he broke through the line to take the ball into the end zone on a 60-yard run at the 10:15 mark in the fourth quarter. That put the Sailors up 19-16.
For the next seven minutes, the Bulldogs moved the ball down field. At the Sailors' 12-yard line, Gaspar Perricone stopped the Bulldogs' Travis Bounds short of a first down which forced the Bulldogs into field goal position on fourth down. Their field goal was good to tie the game at 19-19 with just 2:29 left on the clock.
On the punt return, Cory Beck brought the ball up to the Sailors' 38-yard line and Barr followed by holding onto the ball in the next play for another 14 yards, putting the ball at the 48-yard line.
Once again, Marias broke through the line, traveled up the left side and out ran a Bulldogs defender to secure the 26-19 victory.
But with less than two minutes left in the game, the Bulldogs made their way back up the field in search of another touchdown.
A pass from Palisade's quarterback Josh Roseberry to Jesse Campos, along with a Sailors' penalty, moved the team up 42 yards in just 11 seconds.
At the 47-yard line, Roseberry threw again to Campos who was deep in Sailors' territory, but Barr read the play, moved back and intercepted the ball to give the Sailors possession for the last minute.
"We worked on that play in practice," Barr said. "I dropped back, read the ball and made the interception. I was just going through the motions."
The Sailors unleashed their offensive power on the ground, rushing for 367 yards with Marias, Barr and newly positioned Pat McMahon running for over 100 yards each.
But it was the offensive line that stepped up, Drake said. Scott Middleton, Mike Radford, Steve Mahosky, Zach Forcum, Perricone and Joe Liefer, Drake said, made big contributions to the offense.
"All of those guys did well, they blocked for each other and played together as team," Drake said.
On defense, the Sailors kept the Bulldogs to a field goal after the first quarter. After a halftime lead of 14-12, the Bulldogs scored a safety in the third-quarter, sacking Barr.
"We held them in the second half," Radford said. "By the second quarter we adjusted to their offense and were able to shut them down."
The Sailors' defense did have a break when the Bulldogs' leading rusher Chad Kelley left the game late in the second quarter from a knee injury.
McMahon put the Sailors on the board first when he took the ball in for a 54-yard run. Filling in for Tim Higbee, who is out with a concussion, McMahon took over as fullback during Wednesday's practice.
The Sailors trudged off the field Friday night, wiping tears away in front of a packed homecoming crowd.
Meanwhile, about 42 miles west of Steamboat, the Rifle Bears were finishing up shop on the Moffat County Bulldogs.
Led by quarterback Ryan Whittington, the Bears amassed 337 yards in the first half of a 39-14 victory. They jumped out to an 18-0 lead when Whittington launched a 71-yard bomb to Jason Enewold for a touchdown.
It sets up an Oct. 26 showdown between Steamboat and Rifle, which are both undefeated in the Western Slope League.