Steamboat Springs Delta plans to play keep away tonight.
Coach Derek Carlson has watched plenty of Steamboat's offense in person and on tape. He knows the best way to prevent the Sailors from racking up chunks of yardage and scoring multiple touchdowns is simple.
"We will have to hang on to the ball and keep it away because their offense is good," Carlson said. "If we can keep the ball away that will be huge for us."
He also said any Panther visit inside Steamboat's 20-yard line has to end in a score. Against Rifle, a game Delta led 6-0 at the half, the Panthers stalled out more times than Carlson would care to remember.
"Our offense has to help our defense," Carlson said.
The Delta coach said, however, that he couldn't gauge at this point which facet of his team is at its best right now. It doesn't matter. He said both have to be sharp in today's 7 p.m. game at Panther Stadium in Delta.
Like Palisade, Steamboat's opponent last Friday night, Delta has the unenviable task of playing Rifle and the Sailors in back-to-back weeks. The Panthers, however, will host Steamboat, making the schedule slightly more appealing to Carlson.
"For travel purposes it's not bad because we don't have to travel to Steamboat or Cortez," he said. "But the lineup for our league schedule is kind of crappy. It'd be a little better if it was mixed around."
Delta enters tonight's contest 0-1 in league play and 1-4 overall. Steamboat is 3-2 overall and 1-1 in the Western Slope. The Sailors are seeking to rebound from a tough 31-26 loss at home against Palisade on Sept. 27.
Despite dropping the league contest, Steamboat's demeanor following the game was rather upbeat. Of course the Sailors wanted to win, but both coach Mark Drake and his players felt the end result proved it could play with the best in the league.
It has to continue tonight.
"They look tough," Drake said.
The Panthers proved their mettle by playing with top-ranked Rifle for one half before collapsing in the second half last week. Carlson said if his linemen play well on both sides, Delta can play with anyone, Steamboat included.
"They are big and strong," Drake said "They will be tough to run against."
And the ground game is the center of the Sailors' respected offense. With senior Pat McMahon and junior Shea Hurley out, Steamboat will look for increased production from seniors Zach Forcum and Patrick Rogers. Rarely used backs John Bowers, Brad Bonner and Cory Moore will also get carries.
McMahon's absence means a loss of speed and experience, and Drake said there's no equivalent for either, but Steamboat has almost made a theme out of different players stepping in and stepping up so far this season.
Bonner said he's ready. He said he isn't as strong or as quick as McMahon, but he will run hard and is anxious to get touches.
Despite the injuries, Drake said Steamboat's recent play one win, one close loss hasn't surprised him. It's inspired him.
"I'm just really pleased with their effort level," Drake said. "We've talked about having the right mental attitude. Football is a series of four-second battles. They are responding to that. They are giving everything they have. Yeah, we've made big mistakes, but we all make mistakes. These are just high school kids and they are doing a great job. Hopefully we can continue with that."