Thursday, September 30, 2004
All that separates Steamboat Springs from Cortez is eight hours through the Routt, White River, Gunnison, Uncompahgre and San Juan national forests.
All that separates the Steamboat Springs football team (0-4, 0-2 in the Western Slope League) from notching its first win of the season is a Montezuma-Cortez squad (4-0, 2-0) ready to test its unbeaten mark against a quality opponent.
"I definitely think we have a home field advantage, but we have to make sure we play well," Panthers coach Tom Adair said. "We have to make sure we make no mental mistakes. They'll come down here with the right attitude. They are hungry to win one, and that's something that we are trying to point out to our kids. They've played an excellent schedule."
Cortez has beaten a Class 2A Pagosa Springs squad, a large 4A team from Farmington, N.M., and two league opponents in Battle Mountain and Eagle Valley. The Panthers have won in impressive fashion in some games, but they've proven to be tough to beat in close games, as well.
"The thing I noticed the most in the two games I've watched and from seeing stats and news articles on the others, is they've been incredibly opportunistic," Sailors coach Aaron Finch said. "They've created turnovers and held on to the football. They believe they are a good team now. They believe they can win games."
The change in attitude can be attributed to the nine senior starters, Adair said. This year, the senior group is showing a level of leadership in games and practice that the coach has not had since he took over three years ago.
"We have great team unity," he said.
The Sailors will have ample opportunities to be together as a team for what is one of the longest road trips any team at any level will make in Colorado this season. The Sailors left just after noon Thursday and planned to practice and stay in Grand Junction on Thursday night.
They were going to drive to Moab for lunch today before heading toward Cortez for the 7 p.m. game today. Steamboat will stay in Cortez tonight and return Saturday.
"It will be an interesting challenge," Finch said.
Finch said he spoke to Adair about the possibility of moving the game to a neutral site, but both coaches agreed it is nice to be at home when its their team's turn to host the game.
Other than junior lineman Zack Savage, Steamboat will have everyone ready to play, Finch said. The Panthers will challenge the Sailors' secondary over the top and likely will challenge the linebackers with a talented tailback.
Steamboat will counter with its own ground and passing games that improved in the 40-20 loss to Moffat County on Sept. 24. Finch said the Sailors threw in several new plays against the Bulldogs with success, including a play on senior Clay McKenzie's short touchdown run, which he ran in untouched.
Tonight, for the first time all season, the Sailors will match up much better against an opponent.
"We haven't had a chance to prove to ourselves that what we're doing works ... because our competition has been at such a high level," Finch said. "This group of kids worked so much harder this summer. ... Rarely did they take a day off as a team. Mentally and physically, they are coming out and working their tails off, and they haven't been rewarded yet, and that's been disappointing for me."