The Steamboat Sailors football team has clinched a playoff berth but still has reason to play well in tonight's regular season finale.
Steamboat wants to retain the No. 3 seed out of the Western Slope League. If the team (7-2 overall, 5-2 in the league) defeats Glenwood Springs (3-6, 3-4), the Sailors will travel to play the No. 2 seed out of the Southern League.
If Steamboat loses and Rifle wins, the Sailors drop to the No. 4 seed and will travel to play the champion of the Tri-Valley League.
Coach Aaron Finch said the coaching staff had discussed playoff scenarios with the players but that the focus remained squarely on the Demons tonight.
"You don't want to get too far ahead of yourselves," Finch said. "Winning this game is important from the standpoint of how the playoffs start for us.
"What's more important is that you want to get better every week."
For the most part, the Sailors have progressed each game. In a 47-7 rout of Delta on Oct. 28, Steamboat was almost flawless. The Sailors held the Panthers to just three yards on 26 carries and less than 100 yards in total offense. Meanwhile, Steamboat used 12 ball carriers to gain 315 yards, including 118 yards from senior Walker Hammond and 89 yards from sophomore Jay Hanley.
Junior quarterback Tanner Stillwell was 6-of-7 for 112 yards and one touchdown, easily the best passing game of the year for the Sailors.
If Steamboat can combine a more-balanced offense with its stingy defense, it will be a difficult opponent in any game.
"I feel like, over the course of the year, we are a much better football team than when we played Aurora Central back in August," Finch said. "But you have to be."
Glenwood Springs, a playoff team last season, is right behind Moffat County in the standings. Although the Demons won't return to the postseason this year, Finch said it is a good football team.
"They look like us in a lot of ways," Finch said. "We run variations of the same (3-5) defense, but they line up a little different and have different favorite blitzes."
Sailors linemen do a lot of zone blocking, so they are better equipped to pick up those linebacker blitzes than teams that block man to man.
Steamboat will have to adjust on plays that take longer to develop, Finch said, adding that it had been fun planning against a rarely used 3-5 scheme.
On the other hand, Glenwood's offense will be familiar with Steamboat's scheme, but few teams have had much success running against the Sailors. With each game, Steamboat's secondary has improved, as well.
While the Sailors and Demons are wrapping up the regular season in Steamboat, Eagle Valley and Palisade will be playing for the league championship and No. 1 seed in Gypsum.
The Devils have one loss after falling to Rifle. If Eagle Valley beats Palisade, both teams would finish with one league loss, but the Devils would own the tiebreaker based on its head-to-head win. Both teams will host a first-round playoff game.