Nobody is going to argue that Tuesday's effort at Dudley Field was Steamboat's prettiest game of the season.
But with Glenwood Springs coming to town Thursday, the Steamboat players made the most of their opportunities and picked up a key 5-3 victory over Rifle, a team previously unbeaten in league play. Steamboat is now 2-1 and tied with Rifle. Glenwood Springs beat Moffat County 4-1 Tuesday night and is 3-1 in league play.
"We are going into both of these games like it's the playoffs," defensive player Bjorn Utu said. "If we lose these, then our season could be wrecked."
Thanks in part to a solid game from Devin Borvansky and timely goals from Alec Nelson and Harry Packer, Steamboat was able to hold off Rifle in Tuesday's game.
"When it was on, we took advantage of it," Borvansky said. "Alec's first goal really gave us the ability to control the tempo. That really helped."
Steamboat's first opportunity of the game came less than a minute into the contest.
Steamboat junior Alec Nelson found an opening in front of the Rifle goal. Rifle keeper Jeremiah Bjork dived to stop an anticipated shot, but Nelson used a quick move to redirect the ball and then fired it over the goalkeeper who was sprawled on the ground.
It gave Steamboat the 1-0 lead but not the flow the players were looking for on the field.
"For whatever reason, we were not sharp today, and we had a very difficult time establishing any type of rhythm," Steamboat coach Rob Bohlmann said. "It was kind of an ugly game, but lucky for us, Rifle never found their rhythm, either."
Bohlmann said the Sailors' effort was very different from his team's game Friday, when they passed the ball well against Delta County but struggled to finish on goal in a 3-1 win.
The coach said Tuesday the team didn't do a good job of creating opportunities but was quick to take advantage of them when they appeared.
Borvansky netted his first of two goals in the game 21 minutes into the first half after getting an assist from teammates Packer and Daniel Carlson.
But the 2-0 cushion was short-lived.
A few minutes later, Steamboat was called for a penalty in the goal box. David Romero made it hurt by blasting a shot past Steamboat's Andrew Comeau. Steamboat still held a 2-1 advantage at the half.
Steamboat came out sharper in the opening minutes of the second half of the game, and it paid off. Packer took a crossing pass from teammate Dustin Atkinson and chipped the shot into the back of the net to put Steamboat up 3-1 two minutes into the half.
But Rifle rallied once more.
This time, Stuart Stapleton placed a free kick from near midfield past Comeau's outreached hands for the score. The score gave Rifle life as Steamboat continued to struggle to find some sort of offensive rhythm.
But 26 minutes into the half, opportunity would knock one more time for Steamboat. This time Borvansky scored to put Steamboat up 4-2.
Rifle's Sean Melody headed a ball into the back of the goal to give Rifle one last burst of momentum. His goal came against backup goalkeeper Jordan Gray, who had come into the game to replace Comeau, who moved into the field.
It added some last-minute drama to the game, but an illegal pass back to the goalie a few minutes later gave Steamboat an indirect kick outside of Rifle's box with time running out. After taking a pass from Packer, Comeau fired a hard shot for the final Steamboat goal of the game. The whistle ending the contest was blown a few seconds later.
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