In the first week of the season, the Steamboat Springs High School football team went up against an Arvada squad determined to throw 40 to 50 times a game. In Week 2, the Sailors played a Palisade team more interested in running 40 to 50 times a game.
When Steamboat (0-2) takes the field against Rifle (2-0) at 7 p.m. today in Rifle, the Sailors will need to be ready for anything.
"Offensively, they have a much more balanced attack," Sailors coach Aaron Finch said. "The quarterback has a good arm. They like to hit their backs, and they have a big line. They have all the pieces, based on what we saw in their Week 1 game."
The Rifle Bears faced Harrison, a Colorado Springs school, in that game, defeating the Panthers, 21-0.
The one thing the Bears did not have in the opening game of the season was mistakes. Blessed with a veteran group of players spurred on by last season's less-than-stellar 7-4 record, Rifle is out to reassert itself as the Class 3A Western Slope League's top team -- and one of the state's best teams.
Last season, the Sailors beat the Bears, 35-29. The Bears lost to Steamboat, Palisade, Moffat County and 2A Roaring Fork en route to an eventual fourth-place league finish.
Although it seems likely that the Bears players have circled tonight's game against the Sailors as one of those "revenge" games, Finch said he spoke with long-time Rifle coach Darrel Gorham earlier this week and didn't get the impression that revenge was on his mind.
Gorham could not be reached for comment.
Steamboat is just searching for a win. The Sailors looked better than Arvada, a 4A school, and defending 3A champion Palisade during stretches of the first two games. The difference was the Reds and Bulldogs made fewer mistakes and subsequently won, but Finch isn't dwelling on the past.
"Rather than harping on mistakes, our focus this week has been talking about every football game coming down to four or five plays," he said. "You have to approach each game (as) 'This is the play (where) I'm going to make a difference.' Hopefully, that holds and sticks. Pick any five plays in the first and second game and you are writing about how Steamboat shocks the 3A world."
A win over the Bears wouldn't be a shocker, but it would be a step in the right direction.
Traditionally, Rifle doesn't hand out wins to the opposition on its home field. The visiting locker room is a hike from the playing field. The grass surface is hard and beat up from football and soccer. In the past, the lights high above the field made the football blend into the deep blue jerseys worn by the home Bears.
Those may not be intentional factors, but they work.
"They have an awesome winning tradition there," Finch said. "They believe they can win there and back it up. They have created a tough place to play."
In the first two weeks, Steamboat has proven to others and itself, however, that it can match any team's toughness. For most of the season, including this week, the Sailors will be undersized.
The toughest match-up from Rifle comes in the form of 6-foot-5, 270-pound senior Jeff Zimmerman, considered a sure-fire collegiate player by many. Last Friday, Steamboat was outsized by Palisade's offensive line. The Bulldogs amassed more than 300 yards rushing but didn't break free for many long runs and had difficulty running to the outside. The Sailors' defense will have to be equally intense tonight.
This week, every Steamboat player got to practice. It was the first time since the season started that a player hasn't had to be held out before a game because of injuries. The reps the players received this week should go a long way toward fewer mistakes on either side of the ball, as younger players continue to become a more integral part of the Sailors' success.
Last week, juniors such as Scott Stanko and Sam Gary stepped up for Steamboat's defense. In the first week, junior Thomas Allen was involved in his fair share of tackles.
None played major varsity roles last year.
Finch is ready for the team's hard work and preparation to be rewarded.
"It's September, so it must be a good team," Finch said. "We are running out of chances to beat these teams we are putting ourselves in a position to beat ... for teams to win games against tough opponents, teams need to create breaks. We need to do more of that earlier. I think we are beginning to believe we can play with any of these teams."