Nearly 300 miles and a mountain range separate the towns of Steamboat Springs and Sterling, but Colorado is a big state with small football circles.
So when coach Mark Bauder discovered Sterling opened the playoffs against Steamboat, the four-year Tigers coach already had some notion of what to expect from the Sailors without seeing video.
After all, coaches talk. And words travel quicker than tapes.
"You get an idea as the season goes along," Bauder said. "We had a good idea that Steamboat really liked to throw the ball around and had several good athletes they like to throw to. We were aware that when the match-up did come, it was going to be tough."
But the same holds true for the Sailors. Steamboat has not advanced out of the first round of the playoffs since 1991 -- when coach Mark Drake's son was the quarterback. The Sailors understand that there are no more easy match-ups.
"We have to be on top of our game right now, or it's all over," Drake said.
Kickoff for Steamboat's playoff game with Sterling is 1 p.m. Saturday at Gardner Field.
The Sailors closed the regular season at 9-1 overall, a record indicative of their talent. The Tigers finished up 5-5, a record not indicative of their talent.
Sterling was winless in non-league games this fall, opting to schedule the likes of 4A Niwot, the Western Slope's top-seed Palisade and Ogallala, Neb., one of the best teams in its classification.
The Tigers went on to finish 5-2 in their league, however, falling to undefeated Mountain View and Berthoud.
Steamboat, on the other hand, went 3-0 during the earlier part of the schedule, beating sound teams in Sierra and 2A Eagle Valley and a playoff team in Berthoud.
The Sailors then went on to enjoy one of their best league seasons (5-1) in recent memory, topping Rifle and Moffat County to surge to the top of the Western Slope standings. Only a 10-point loss to Palisade on Sept. 26 stands between Steamboat and a perfect record. And in that game, the Sailors turned the ball over five times in the second half, blowing a halftime lead.
Palisade coach Todd Casebier defeated Steamboat and Sterling this season, and while his team will have its hands full with league-rival Rifle on Saturday, Casebier expects an exciting game in Steamboat, as well.
"I think that Steamboat's strength is in its passing game, and it will be difficult for Sterling to deal with," Casebier said. "We were able to pass the ball on Sterling, and we are clearly not the passing team that Steamboat is."
However, Casebier does not believe the Sailors will dominate Saturday's game, even if it is at Gardner Field.
"But offensively, Sterling does some things that Steamboat will have to deal with," Casebier added. "Sterling runs the ball pretty well. I don't think the issue will be how many points will Steamboat score. The issue will be if Sterling can control the ball. Steamboat's defense seems like it's gotten better, and I think Steamboat's got a chance to score points, but Sterling's got some good kids. I don't see it being a blowout."
The Tigers feature a powerful running game similar to Moffat County's. The difference between the teams, however, is that Sterling has a more potent passing game to complement what it does on the ground, running out of pro and twin formations.
Steamboat senior and strong safety Shea Hurley conceded that it will be difficult for the Sailors to stop the Tigers' potent rushing attack, which is led by fullback Shane Cramer and tailback Derek Schneider. If Steamboat's defense cannot stop the run, it will limit the possessions Steamboat's offense has, which is clearly the route the Tigers want to take and what the Sailors want to avoid.
Steamboat did avoid a first-round match-up with Palisade when Palisade beat Moffat County one week ago. Had Palisade lost, it would have traveled to Steamboat as a dangerous 8-2 wild card team. While the Sailors would have welcomed any opponent they got, senior Taylor Leary said he prefers to face the Tigers rather than the Bulldogs.
"I like the match-up," Leary, a lineman, said. "It's better to play a team we haven't seen, but we know they are tough because they played Berthoud tough. It's all or nothing. Everyone's got a record of 0-0."
Steamboat beat Berthoud, 20-7, Sept. 12.
Sterling will travel to Steamboat today and stay overnight in preparation for the 1 p.m. Saturday game at Gardner Field.
Tickets for Saturday's game can be purchased at the gate. Adult tickets cost $7. Student tickets are $5. Children younger than 4 are free. Activity passes will not be accepted.
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