Travis Hodo, Kris Gayer and Wayne Buelter call it their war paint. It's nothing more than eye black smeared all over their faces, but if it makes the Steamboat defensive linemen play harder on the line, no one questions it.
And it'd be tough to argue that any unit played better than Steamboat's defense in Friday's 22-12 win against Moffat County. Steamboat Springs defensive coordinator/assistant coach Bob Harris was like a proud papa after the win. All season, the Sailors' defense steadily has improved. Except for a two-minute stretch in the fourth quarter Friday -- when the Bulldogs scored their only two touchdowns -- it was the sharpest unit on the field, allowing Moffat County just 227 yards in total offense.
"We thought we had a huge responsibility because they like to run up the middle a lot," Hodo said. "And they got us some, but not enough."
Coming into Friday's game, the marquee match-up was supposed to be Steamboat's league-leading offense (37 points a game) against the Bulldogs' league-leading defense (eight points against). The Sailors were held to 22 points -- all scored in the first half -- and 284 total yards. But it wasn't enough, because the Sailors' defense, the least-heralded unit before Friday, forced three Bulldog turnovers, one of which came near the goal line as Moffat County was threatening to score in the first half.
"They would make a good play, and then we would, but we expected to be able to move the ball more," Bulldogs senior Aaron Sanchez said. "They flew to the ball a lot better than anybody we've played this year." Steamboat's defense responded early, shutting down the Bulldogs' ground game and giving the Sailors' offense a chance to move the ball, gain some confidence and silence the home crowd.
Steamboat scored on its first drive of the first quarter, highlighted by coach Mark Drake's first offensive call of the game. Using Moffat County's aggressive pass/rush against it, Drake called for a screen pass to back Brad Bonner that went for 44 yards.
The Sailors scored several plays later on an 11-yard misdirection pass from quarterback David May to Casey Earp with 8 minutes, 18 seconds on the clock. Bulldog Nick Goodenow blocked Tyler Fosdick's point after, but it made no difference, as the Sailors tacked on three scores in the second quarter -- two of which came off Moffat County turnovers.
"Fumbles have killed us all year, and (Friday) they caught up with us," Bulldogs coach Kip Hafey said.
The Sailors had two fumbles but recovered both. It was a game where nearly every bounce went Steamboat's way, evidenced mostly in May's goal-line fumble that senior Lonny Radford recovered and ran in for a sure score with 8:31 left in the second.
The Sailors rounded out their scoring with Fosdick's 36-yard field goal and Radford's 44-yard reception later in the second. Both teams went scoreless in the third quarter before Moffat County rallied in the fourth, scoring two touchdowns in less than three minutes. The Bulldogs couldn't recover either of the on-side kick attempts, however, and the Sailors did just enough on offense to hold their lead and win the game.
"This is a great win," May said. "To us seniors, it means a lot." It meant a lot to the rest of the team, as well. The win moved Steamboat to 8-1 overall this season and 5-1 in the league, as the Sailors clinched at least a share of the league title. The loss dropped Moffat County to 7-2 overall and 4-1 in the league.
Moffat County and Palisade play Oct. 31 to determine the final standings of the Western Slope.