League showdown

4-0 Steamboat faces powerful Palisade squad

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The Steamboat Springs football team aimed to be undefeated heading into today's game against Western Slope powerhouse Palisade in Grand Junction.

At 4-0, the Sailors accomplished their goal. They also envisioned that Pali-sade, ranked No. 1 in the state to start the season, also would be undefeated when the teams hit the field at 4 p.m. today at Stocker Stadium in Palisade.

But Palisade fell to Rifle, 35-14, last week, which dropped the Bulldogs the top spot to the No. 3 ranking in Class 3A. Mountain View seized the No. 1 state ranking in the latest polls released by The Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News.

The Sailors remain the only undefeated team left in the Western Slope League. In league play, Steamboat, Rifle (3-1) and Moffat County (3-1) are 1-0.

Palisade earned the top spot early this season largely because eight offensive and eight defensive starters returned. The Bulldogs did open the 2003 season in impressive fashion, winning its first four games, but coach Todd Casebier said he did not believe his team deserved -- or needed -- the attention in early September.

"That's why rankings drive you nuts," he said. "We knew all along we weren't the best team in the state. Kids read it, and they think it's true."

Rifle, meanwhile, played like one of the state's top teams last Friday, backing up Casebier's earlier statements that until someone beats Rifle the Bears are the best team in the league.

But Palisade is the best team Steamboat has played this season, Sailors coach Mark Drake said. He compared Palisade to Berthoud, saying the Bulldogs are better overall, particularly on offense. Steamboat defeated Berthoud 20-7 on three big plays.

Last season, the Bulldogs beat the Sailors 31-26 on a late, fourth-quarter interception.

Palisade's defense is tough to run against, but Steamboat has won two straight games without much of a ground game. The Sailors' defense has forced nine turnovers, and the starting defenders have done a relatively good job all season limiting big plays.

"These kids believe in themselves," Drake said. "They know they have to step up. If anything, this has to be their best game."

Casebier isn't sure how his team will respond against the Sailors after last Friday's tough loss.

Two unnamed starters are expected to miss today's game for the Bulldogs, and this is the fifth straight week Palisade has gone against a playoff-level opponent, Casebier said.

"We've got a team coming in as good as any we've played or better," Casebier said.

"There's a bunch of adversity right now. We need to get our minds refocused on what we have to do."

Drake said he is expecting to see a tough Palisade team, a team many picked to win the league.

"Without a doubt they are the best team we've played this year," Drake said.

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