Melinda Mawdsley: An unlikely but deserving winner

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At what point did the Steamboat Springs football team stop becoming lucky and undersized and start becoming the semifinal team they are?

"That's a great question," coach Aaron Finch said. "But that's for January."

True, the Sailors aren't done with their season, so Saturday afternoon, fresh off a 14-6 upset of Western Slope League champion Eagle Valley, wasn't the time to start reflecting on an impressive season.

But how does a team averaging 73 yards a game in penalties -- compared with 50 yards a game in passing -- with no lineman taller than 6-foot-2 or heavier than 250 pounds, make the final four?

"I don't know," sophomore Jay Hanley said. "Whatever is pushing us is pushing us."

Perhaps it is best seen in the senior picture taken Saturday on a wet Gardner Field.

Although sophomore Hanley, the leading rusher, junior Tanner Stillwell,he starting quarterback, and junior Westin Cofer, the leading tackler,ave played integral roles in Steamboat's success this year, a team's strength is in its senior class.

This year's senior class -- Thomas Allen, Alex Berger, Sam Gary, Tanner Grimes, Vince Grippa, Walker Hammond, Justin Howard, Jake Kleman, Daniel MacArthur, Andy Morrell, Lee Morris, Treat Romick, Byron Radcliff, Ty Robinson, Zack Savage, Jack Serhant and Scott Stanko --idn't have a lot of varsity experience as a group heading into this season.

But they practice hard, listen to their coaches and play football. They block downfield, credit their teammates for success and genuinely appear to get along with everyone on the team.

"Every week, we've learned how to become better football players," Finch said.

A similar situation occurred in the same locker room two years ago.

The result? Steamboat played in the Class 3A state semifinals.

Four teams are left, Steam--boat, at 10-2, is one of them, but Finch said this year's team doesn't take its success for granted. The Sailors expect to win games, but they don't expect the opposition to give it to them.

Standing on the sideline, with the game still in doubt and the Rocky Mountains in the background, Sam Gary had a moment of clarity.

"He said, 'Isn't this so cool?'" Finch said.

The good news? It's not over.

During a season, a team gets better, or it gets beat.

It's pretty obvious which direction the Sailors have gone.

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