Delta The members of the Steamboat Springs football team got to have their cake and eat it, too, Friday night.
After a 19-18 win over Delta, Steamboat emerged from the locker room wearing tired smiles, toting travel bags and holding paper plates with chocolate cake made for Brad Bonner's and Clay McKenzie's birthday.
It was a hard-earned special treat that could have easily been spoiled had the Sailors lost and they nearly did.
Pumped up with homecoming and the return of the 1960 state championship team, Delta needed little motivation to find energy on the field Friday night.
Steamboat helped further by doing anything possible to aid Delta.
Four first-half turnovers and four penalties cost the Sailors valuable possessions and assisted in two of the Panthers' three first-half touchdowns.
Steamboat could have easily been trailing by more than 18-6 at the half, but all three of Delta's 2-point conversion attempts failed.
Steamboat senior Patrick Rogers said the coaches were less than enthused with the focus and concentration of he and his teammates in the first half. The staff let the whole team know about it at halftime.
"They chewed us up and down," Rogers said.
Sailors coach Mark Drake acknowledged his Steamboat players were heavily reprimanded at the half, but he also said his boys were told to forget about the first 24 minutes of the game.
"We told them it's done," Drake said. "We gave them four more possessions than they should have had. We can't go back and change it. They had to dig down deep. We had to win the second half to win the game."
That's exactly what the Sailors did.
Controlling the ball for nearly the entire second half, Steamboat scored 12 unanswered points to take the lead and subsequently the league victory.
The Sailors comeback bid began with less than five minutes to go in the third quarter. Facing a fourth-and-inches on its own 25, Steamboat opted to go for it, and quarterback David May lunged forward for the first down.
The ability to sustain drives something missing in the first half proved to be the difference in the second for the Sailors. Steamboat's second scoring drive of the game, keyed by several fourth-down conversions, ended in the opening minute of the fourth quarter on May's easy 2-yard touchdown run.
On Delta's next possession, quarterback Blake Carlquist and fullback Brett
Christie botched a handoff, which Steamboat's Wayne Cluster recovered on the Panthers' 25-yard line.
The Sailors finally had the gift they were waiting for. Steamboat capitalized with the short field several minutes later off Rogers' three-yard run aided by lead blocks from Will Zimmerer and John Bowers.
In the fourth quarter alone, Zach Forcum carried the ball five times for 15 yards, including a crucial fourth-down conversion, setting up the game-winning score. Rogers got seven touches and ground out 34 yards and one touchdown. May ran seven times for five yards, but his totals are deceiving since he lost yardage taking a knee three times at the end of the game.
Zimmerer said he was just as proud of Steamboat's ability to chew up the final five minutes with big blocks and tough-nosed runs as we was with any scoring drive.
"This was a must-win," Zimmerer said. "Or this team's shot at the playoffs diminishes quickly."
The fact Steamboat can even talk about the postseason, considering all the injuries they have sustained, is something not lost on Drake. With three league games in the books, the Sailors are 2-1 and have disposed of an upset-ready Panthers squad.
"I came in scared to death," Drake said. "And we talked all week about their size and their toughness."
No matter. Steamboat left Delta with a win, some cake and its own homecoming game on the horizon. Steamboat hosts Glenwood Springs on Oct. 11 at Gardner Field. Kickoff for the Homecoming game is at 7 p.m.