Senior seasons are supposed to be the greatest for football players. After years of growing into shoulder pads and helmets alongside teammates and friends, seniors finally are rewarded for sticking it out through junior high and JV.
And this year has been just that for Tyler Johnson -- the greatest. Of course, it is the only year the senior has played football.
Friday, Johnson had a team-high 41 yards rushing, a reception for 13 yards and a rushing touchdown, the first of his final season, helping Steamboat Springs defeat Battle Mountain 41-20 in Minturn.
A state qualifier last season in track, Johnson decided to give football a try this year for the first time. Senior teammates such as Tyler Leary and Casey Earp have taken years off from football before coming back this fall, but Johnson is a rookie in his final varsity season.
"I was talked into it," Johnson said. "But being a part of this team is incredible."
The win Friday gave the Sailors an impressive 9-1 regular season mark heading into next Saturday's opening round playoff game against the third-place finisher in the Tri-Valley League.
Steamboat will be the No. 2 seed out of the Western Slope. Palisade picked up the top seed by defeating Moffat County 20-15 on Friday in Craig and by defeating Steamboat earlier this season, as well.
Moffat County's losses to Steamboat and Palisade dropped the Bulldogs into the third and final automatic spot the Western Slope is given for the playoffs. Rifle, by virtue of its impressive win against Palisade earlier this season, has a good shot at being the Class 3A wild card. Official wild card points have not been released.
The outcome of Steamboat's game Friday had no playoff implications for the Sailors or any other team within the league because Battle Mountain was a nonleague opponent, but coach Mark Drake and the Sailors wanted to go into the postseason with all the momentum and confidence they gained through the month of October.
Despite scoring the first two touchdowns of the game -- the first off Charlie Pappas' 6-yard touchdown reception and the second off Donald Dillon's 83-yard fumble return forced by Tyler Fosdick -- Steamboat looked lethargic and flat on special teams and defense.
After containing Moffat County's potent ground game up the middle last week, Steamboat allowed Battle Mountain senior Junior Martinez and the Huskies' offensive line to have their way between the hash marks in the first half.
Battle Mountain closed to within 13-6 early in the second quarter.
But quarterback David May connected with Chris Dombey in stride on a 65-yard scoring strike immediately after the Huskies' touchdown to quiet the home crowd and its players with just over seven minutes left in the half.
Despite holding a 21-6 lead, Drake said he was not pleased at halftime.
"He basically said, 'What are you doing? You need to pick it up and come out strong. We want to get these other guys in,'" Dombey said.
Before Friday's game, Drake said he planned on using his varsity starters in a limited role. The first string ended up playing nearly three full quarters, but its execution improved in the second half, giving the younger players valuable varsity experience.
Freshman quarterback Tanner Stillwell saw his first varsity action of the season and completed a pass to Johnson for 13 yards. Younger players such as sophomore Thomas Allen and Walker Hammond and junior Kevin Dombey, the starting center, got a chance to hit people on defense and took advantage.
"I was very pleased those younger kids got an opportunity to play," Drake said.
The Sailors tacked on three touchdowns in the second half, Brad Bonner's 7-yard run, Lonny Radford's 45-yard interception return and Johnson's 12-yard run to arrive at 41 points.
Steamboat's second-string defense surrendered two scores late, giving Battle Mountain 20 points.
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