Sailors click on all facets

Penalties only sign of trouble

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— It often has been said that a football team reflects its head coach and coaching staff.

Steamboat Springs High School coach Aaron Finch likes details. He is organized and intelligent.

He is a former lineman, and all of Steamboat's current crop of linemen are athletic, football savvy and disciplined.

Heading into Friday's opening-round playoff game, Finch said a challenge -- and a key for the Sailors -- would be pressuring Harrison quarterback Adam Gates, who led the team with nearly 600 rushing yards and more than 1,000 passing yards during the regular season.

From the opening snap, Steamboat's defensive linemen and its talented linebackers penetrated the Harrison backfield. The Panthers established no semblance of a rushing attack -- they finished with just 28 yards on the ground -- and the Sailors did not have to respect it.

The pressure Steamboat was able to force with its three linemen and a combination of blitzing linebackers enabled other defenders to drop back into pass coverage.

The number of times Gates had one of his 6-foot-5 receivers in single coverage could be counted on one hand, and Steamboat beat Harrison, 44-14.

Steamboat's Thomas Allen, Scott Stanko and Aaron Hornstein each had an interception. Stanko returned his for a fourth-quarter touchdown.

"At some point, the wind gets taken out of your sails," Panthers coach Shawn Mitchell said about Harrison's second-half comeback effort. "I don't care how good of a motivator the kids on the field are or the coaches are."

Harrison's only scores were on a late kickoff return and a Gates pass to Antoine Watson, the state's sixth-best receiver, according to season statistics from the Rocky Mountain News. Watson finished with 59 yards receiving.

"We knew we needed to go out and knock these guys over," two-way lineman Zack Savage said.

Steamboat dominated in every facet of the game, including special teams, a unit coached by excitable assistant Mike Appel. Whether it's the NFL, college or high school football, special teams is all about discipline and coaching.

The Sailors got on the scoreboard early in the game with a touchdown set up by Nigel Hammond's fifth blocked punt of the season.

Place kicker Ben DeLine scored 13 points -- nine off field goals (21, 35 and 38 yards) and four point-after tries. He also had a touchback and a kickoff that sailed to the Panthers' 3-yard line.

Punters Jace Bonner and Wes--tin Cofer punted three times for an average of 38.7 yards.

Steamboat's return men -- Jack Serhant and Scott Stanko -- gave the Sailors positive return yards on every punt and kickoff. In the first half, the Sailors never started on their half of the field.

The only hiccup was Harrison's kickoff return for a score, but by then the game had been decided.

"Special teams, other than that return, were perfect," Finch said.

The only area Steamboat will have to improve on is penalties. On Friday, the Sailors committed 14 penalties for 96 yards. As the playoffs progress and the team's opponents get better, moving backward will cost Steamboat.

"I wouldn't say it was our best game," Savage said.

Steamboat will await word about starting quarterback Tanner Stillwell, who injured his knee in the second quarter of Friday's game and did not return.

Serhant, Stillwell's backup, was admittedly rusty early and threw an inconsequential interception late in the first half. But he improved in the second half, completing a key pass to junior Aaron Hornstein on second-and-long to set up a first-and-goal situation.

Finch said a doctor looked at Stillwell, who left Memorial Stadium on crutches, in Colorado Springs, but a more extensive evaluation will be performed in Steamboat.

"We don't know enough yet," Finch said.

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