Big plays on offense and an overpowering defense paced the Steamboat Springs Sailors to a 42-0 win over Delta on Friday night.
The snow thinned the crowd at Gardner Field, but those willing to brave the weather saw the Sailors put on a dominating performance. Steamboat rolled up 446 yards of offense, including 275 on the ground. Meanwhile, the Sailors' defense held the Panthers to just 133 yards, most of which came on the last drive when the game had long been decided. The Sailors picked off four passes and recovered four fumbles.
The only blemishes were six Sailor fumbles and 10 penalties for 91 yards.
"You saw a full team effort out there tonight," Steamboat coach Aaron Finch said. "Our defense was really aggressive. You saw a lot of different people getting to the ball, and that's when you know we are playing well. (Defensive coordinator) Lonn Clementson has been talking to the kids about how this defense would work once we put it all together. Tonight they saw it."
The win was the third in a row for the Sailors after opening the season with five losses. Steamboat entered the game with an outside shot at the playoffs, and the Sailors got some help when Rifle beat Cortez, 33-0, on Friday. But Steamboat also needed a Glenwood loss to Eagle Valley that didn't happen. Glenwood won 23-13, knocking the Sailors out of contention.
Still, the Sailors played like a playoff team Friday.
The Sailors led only 6-0 after a sluggish first half. But Steamboat broke the game open in the third quarter, scoring three touchdowns in four minutes.
The Sailors went up 14-0 on the third play of the second half when quarterback Tanner Stillwell dropped back at his own 21-yard line and threw 20 yards downfield to an open Tyler Fosdick. Fosdick gathered in the pass at the Sailors' 41 and raced untouched the rest of the way. Clay McKenzie ran the ball in for a two-point conversion and a 14-0 lead.
On the Panthers' next possession, quarterback Kyle Clanton was picked off, setting Steamboat up at Delta's 28-yard line. A run and an illegal motion penalty later, McKenzie took a pitch and ran 31 yards for a score. Fosdick's kick gave Steamboat a 21-0 lead.
Delta promptly fumbled on the first play of its next possession, and Steamboat took over on the Delta 26-yard line. It took only three plays for the Sailors to score on McKenzie's 17-yard run. That boosted the lead to 28-0, and the game essentially was over.
Running back Brad Bonner, who rushed for 105 yards on 16 carries, scored twice in the final period for the Sailors. Bonner's first touchdown came on a short pass from Fosdick that he took 48 yards for a score. He scored again on the Sailors' next possession, running around the right side for a 38-yard touchdown.
The first half was as ugly as the weather. Both teams struggled to hold onto the ball, combining for eight fumbles in the first 24 minutes. Steamboat lost all four of its fumbles, including fumbling away two punts. Delta lost two of four.
The Sailors moved the ball well when they held onto it. Steamboat had 107 yards and six first downs through the first 22 minutes of play, but the turnovers killed any scoring chances. Fortunately, the Sailors defense was magnificent in the first half, holding Delta to just 34 yards of total offense and two first downs. Twice the Sailors stopped the Panthers on fourth-down attempts.
The second such stop came on a fourth-and-1 at the Steamboat 38-yard line with two minutes left in the half. The Sailors took over, and on the first play from scrimmage, Daniel Coloccia took a handoff up the middle and raced 68 yards for the game's first score.
Finch said Delta was over-committed to stopping the sweep to Bonner, which the Sailors had relied on heavily in previous weeks. Coloccia's run up the middle exposed that weakness.
Finch said the playoffs would have been nice, but he is happy with the progress his team has shown in his first year as head coach.
"This team has faced an inordinate amount of challenges," Finch said. "At this point, we just want to win each game we play, playoffs or not. We are trying to build a foundation here for the future."
Next week, the Sailors (3-5 overall and 3-4 in the Western Slope League) travel to Glenwood Springs for the final game of the season. Finch said it is a chance for Steamboat to prove it is a different team than the squad that was 0-5 a month ago.
"It will be a chance to show the state who we are, who we have become," Finch said. "This team has a lot of pride, and I'm proud of the way the players have come together."