Steamboat Springs Sometimes guts and heart can't get it done. On Friday, they carried the Steamboat Springs football team to a 35-34 victory over a larger, more powerful Sierra squad in the 2002 season opener.
The Stallions, a recent addition to division 3A courtesy of dropping enrollment, packed a couple of 230-pound running backs, several 280-pound linemen and a sophomore running back that could almost fly on their charter bus from Colorado Springs Friday afternoon.
To make matters worse, the Sailors had to hear about it, as their peers and friends measured up the opposition and told the home team it was certain to lose before the first kick even took to the afternoon air above Gardner Field.
"At first I wasn't so sure if we would win," senior Pat McMahon said. "Overall, I knew the prediction was bleak."
Sierra's size quickly became obvious, but the depth of Steamboat's determination and toughness emerged larger, as the Sailors proved to everyone, even themselves, that a team can beat a couple of stars.
"We heard the odds were against us," senior Joel Adams said. "We had a lot of guys going both ways, and it took a lot of heart."
No one epitomized that more than Adams. A starting defensive back, he was expected to dish out plenty of hits Friday night. He wasn't, however, expecting to take as many at quarterback, and not one was as painful as a late third-quarter, blind-side sack that forced him to fumble. Sierra recovered on Steamboat's 29-yard line, trailing the Sailors 28-27.
"I got up. I felt dizzy," Adams said. "I walked over to the sidelines, and the trainer said I was all right. I had to pick it up for the team. I knew there were other guys out there."
Three plays later, behind fullback James Fields and running back Kevin Westmoreland, the Stallions scored. The extra point was good to give Sierra a 34-28 lead, but a previous decision from coach Kevin Gray to go for two instead of one on an earlier touchdown had cost the Stallions a point.
It proved to be the difference, as the Sailors came back to score on their first drive of the fourth quarter one built around timely blocks and great individual plays.
At Sierra's 49-yard line, Steamboat executed the option to perfection as Adams pitched to a streaking McMahon, who took off down the left sideline for a gain of 20 on the play.
But the Sailors found themselves in a fourth-and-three with 9:45 left in the game. In good field position, and trailing by one, coach Mark Drake opted to go for it.
A quick attempt to draw the Stallions offsides failed, but the called play, a quarterback keeper to the left side, was good for 6 yards and a first down.
Adams gained 13 yards on the subsequent play, setting up a first-and-goal. Two plays later, senior fullback Patrick Rogers tucked behind senior Carter Dunham's block and ran untouched into the end zone, tying the game at the 7:57-mark.
Senior Jeff Franks, plagued by a sore ankle most of the game, still drilled the extra point, putting his team ahead by one.
What seemed like a sure victory almost went down as a devastating defeat when the Sailors, forced to punt on their next drive, sent a long snap over punter Niles Nelson's head all the way to Steamboat's 5-yard line.
Fields, who rushed for 104 yards Friday night, 94 in the second half, was called upon to get the ball across the goal line.
Three attempts failed. Instead of attempting a short field goal to win the game Sierra's place-kicker proved reliable from short distances the Stallions called Fields' number on fourth-and-one.
He was smothered beneath Steamboat's defensive linemen.
"For them to suck it up and do what they did, especially after what happened to them in the third quarter, speaks for itself," a proud Drake said after the game.
Will Zimmerer, a senior lineman, said he was surprised Sierra didn't attempt a field goal, and when there was no kicker in the backfield just No. 47 he knew what was next.
"I knew he was coming off the left tackle," Zimmerer said. "That play was their bread and butter. We had a lot of heart. We stepped up and dug our heels in."
And lifted their team to victory. The Sailors pushed the ball away from the goal line to avoid the safety as time expired, giving them a hard-fought 1-0 record on the year.
Normally a proponent of scheduling easier teams in non-league games, Drake was ecstatic to leave Garner Field victorious.
"At times we looked so good," he said. "At times we looked like we had never run those plays before, but the thing is these kids believe in themselves. They could have folded and taken a loss by one touchdown, but they refused to accept that."
Football players with heart often do.
To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org