Nine months removed from winning a state championship, the Palisade football team finds itself back among the elite in Class 3A, a Western Slope League favorite and the popular choice to bring another title to the program.
Nine months removed from an 11-2 season, capped off by a semifinal appearance, the Steamboat Springs football team is wondering why it is being ignored.
Pollsters have Palisade, Rifle and Moffat County among the top five in the state. The Sailors are off the map, left out because they have few returning starters, a tough schedule and because some pollsters, perhaps, think they were one-year wonders.
Tonight, when Steamboat (0-1) hosts Palisade (1-0) at 7 p.m. at Gardner Field, the Sailors have a shot to show they were not.
"This is our chance to prove we are being underestimated and we can play with the best teams in the state," Steamboat coach Aaron Finch said. "Palisade deserves their ranking, but that doesn't mean we aren't going in with a game plan and a strategy. It will be an incredible test of our resolve."
The Sailors are coming off a 28-22 loss to Class 4A Arvada, a game that many on Steamboat's sidelines think the Sailors could and should have won. However, the Sailors turned the ball over five times and executed poorly in the fourth quarter.
Palisade is coming off a 27-0 win against Pueblo County, a playoff team from last fall. The Bulldogs put the ball on the ground eight times against the Hornets, Finch said, but only turned over the ball three times. Three times is too many, Palisade coach Todd Casebier said.
Still, Casebier said he was pleased with the way the Bulldogs ran the ball. Fullback Jason Popick and tailback Kyle Britton, defending 3A player of the year, combined to rush for 330 yards.
"We'll find out an awful lot tonight," he said.
Palisade is starting as a sophomore quarterback, and the Bulldogs, just two weeks into the season, aren't ready to force an inexperienced player into making plays in the passing game. The Bulldogs will run the ball. It will be up to the Sailors to stop them. And after watching film of Steamboat's defense, Casebier said, the home team has his attention.
"The way they attack you on defense, you don't really know who is blitzing or when or where, so that creates some problems," he said. "We usually play them at midseason when both teams are firing on all cylinders. All things considered, it's still a high-stakes game for all of us."
While Britton and Popick are talented runners, the success of the Bulldogs rests on the broad shoulders of its offensive line, a unit that Finch, a former college lineman, would stack up against any in Colorado. It is an experienced, athletic group, and the Sailors must find a way to prevent Palisade from controlling the ball.
Last week, quarterback Tyler Fosdick and wing Daniel Coloccia took hard hits that knocked them from the game. Coloccia was taken by ambulance to a Jefferson County hospital. Both were up and walking this week, but no matter who lines up in Steamboat's backfield, particularly behind center, tonight, the offensive line has to provide them with more time.
"I think the running game can definitely be stronger this week," Finch said. "A lot of the challenges with our run and pass blocking last week weren't physical. They were mental. We did throw the ball well, and if we gave Tyler a touch more time we could have thrown better."
Last year's game between Palisade and Steamboat was a shootout. A combined 72 points were scored. This year's game, particularly because it is the second week of the season, likely will be run-oriented on both sides.
All things considered, both teams likely would prefer to be playing later in the season. Steamboat is going in with the mindset that this is the right time to face the defending state champion.
"We had a tough opponent in Week 1," Finch said. "We know what it's like to play tough guys so we got that out of our system. Hopefully, we have a lot of our mistakes and learning out of our system, as well. Neither really knows quite what the other is going to look like. From that standpoint, it's nice to get them early."
-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org