WSL toughest in 3A

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The good news for the Steamboat Springs football team is if it starts the season 4-0, it is likely headed for the playoffs and will have earned it. The bad news is there is a realistic chance the Sailors could open 0-4 and be left fighting for one of four playoff berths given to the 3A Western Slope League this year.

That is how hard September will be for Steamboat. The schedule looks like this: Saturday at 4A Arvada; Sept. 10 at home against defending state champion Palisade; Sept. 17 at perennial power Rifle; and Sept. 24 at home against rival Moffat County.

No other football team has a September like the Sailors. For four straight weeks, Steamboat can't relax. Its players can't take one play off because if they do, they might lose a game.

"We play Arvada on Sept. 4," senior Charlie Pappas said. "And that's where we'll start."

If any season will follow the proverbial "one game at a

time" mentality, it will be

this one, coach Aaron Finch said. And even after September ends, there is little time for the Sailors to ease up in a league that is arguably the toughest in the state again this season.

The addition of Eagle Valley, a 2A state playoff team from last year, has five 2003 playoff teams fighting for four spots. Glenwood Springs, Delta, Battle Mountain and Montezuma-Cortez all should be improved, as well.

In state rankings, Palisade, Rifle and Moffat County are in the top 10, with Palisade picked to repeat as champions, if they are allowed to compete.

The Bulldogs are on probation stemming from their use of an illegal player last season. Under the probation, Palisade forfeited its regular season games, which gave Steamboat the league championship last season, but the Bulldogs were allowed to retain their state title.

In turn, Palisade is ineligible for postseason play this year, but there is a chance it will be cleared when the school presents its case before a Colorado High School Activities Association executive committee Oct. 6.

Until then, expect the Bulldogs to take the "us versus everyone else" approach to the season.

Players to watch this year include: Palisade's Kyle Britton, the defending 3A offensive player of the year; Rifle's versatile Jeff Zimmerman and Kyle Sanderson; Moffat County's Derek Duran and Scott Garoutte; and Delta's Tyler Morfitt.

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