In 30 years as head coach at Steamboat Springs High School, Mark Drake's had some memorable victories, but he said the 35-29 victory over Rifle on Friday "has got to be up there toward the top."
It had been at least five years since the Sailors came out on the winning end of a game against the Bears, he said. But everything about this year's team is different, and the attitude starts with the senior class.
Unless the Sailors have the chance to host a postseason home game, Friday marked the final game for 17 seniors, some of whom are four-year veterans of Steamboat football and others who are newcomers to the team.
Appropriately, the seniors played a pivotal role in Steamboat's win. Offensively, quarterback David May threw for nearly 300 yards, completing 72 percent of his passes and throwing for two touchdowns.
Senior Lonny Radford made the game-saving interception with less than 2 minutes remaining in the game. That play capped off his 189 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Senior Chris Dombey averaged 23 yards a catch to go along with his touchdown reception.
After mediocre practices that culminated in a close 21-14 win against Glenwood Springs last week, Steamboat came back with four great practices heading into Friday's game against Rifle, Radford said.
"We knew what we had to do. After Thursday's practice, we knew we were going to play well," Radford added.
Last season, Steamboat's playoff hopes died with a close loss to Moffat County at Gardner Field.
This season, the Sailors and Bulldogs meet again with Steamboat already in the postseason and Moffat County all but a lock to get in with its defeat of Rifle earlier this season.
"It's going to be a big one," Dombey said of the Oct. 24 match-up. "As coach Drake said, we're going to have more fun. I think we're going to have a real good week of practice."
Team chemistry has been an overriding theme this year, and it has played an integral role in how the Sailors have played and prepared, Drake and his players have said. There are no players seeking individual glory. It's best seen in receivers making downfield blocks, running backs, quarterbacks and receivers heaping praise on their line and the overall offense complementing the defense's play.
This year's theme has been "Accept the challenge," Drake said, and he believes his team continues to do that week in and week out, perhaps most notably against Rifle on Friday.