The Eagle Valley High School football team may have won the Western Slope League championship, but Steamboat Springs won Saturday's rematch between the league foes, earning the Sailors a berth in the Class 3A semifinals.
Behind sophomore Jay Hanley's 163 rushing yards, including the game-winning, 8-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter, the Sailors controlled the line of scrimmage en route to a 14-6 quarterfinal win against the Devils.
Not even a face caked with dried mud could hide Hanley's smile.
"That was a fun game," the Steamboat fullback said.
Eagle Valley defeated Steamboat, 16-13, on Oct. 14 in Steamboat. In that game, Hanley, who still was recovering from hand surgery, had two carries for no yards.
He averaged seven yards a carry Saturday, breaking tackles and Eagle Valley's spirits in the process.
"I think Hanley was the difference in the game," said Devils coach John Ramunno, a 1975 Steamboat Springs High School graduate. "Hanley is a good, power, straight-ahead runner. He doesn't depend on a cut."
No one did much cutting on Gardner Field on Saturday. It was muddy, wet and ripped apart. Puddles collected between the hash marks, and snow piles circled the outside of the field.
Ramunno and Steamboat Springs coach Aaron Finch correctly predicted field position and turnovers would decide Saturday's game.
The Sailors (10-2) had more turnovers than the Devils (10-2), but Eagle Valley couldn't capitalize on any of Steamboat's three fumbles. The Sailors, on the other hand, scored all 14 of their points off Devils turnovers.
Steamboat's first score came in the opening two minutes of the game. Junior lineman Tucker Campbell, who missed the first seven games of the season while playing golf, set up the short field when he recovered a missed exchange between Eagle Valley quarterback Michael Medsker and center Will Britt on the second play from scrimmage.
The Sailors scored two plays later on junior quarterback Tanner Stillwell's 1-yard keeper. Steamboat sophomore Ben DeLine converted the point-after try with 10 minutes, 54 seconds left in the first quarter.
Steamboat's second score didn't come until the 3:34 mark of the third quarter on Hanley's 8-yard rumble through Eagle Valley's defense. DeLine converted another PAT.
In between, the Sailors' defense dominated the Devils, holding dangerous rusher Sean Matheson to 38 yards on six carries. In total, Eagle Valley had 77 rushing yards on 28 attempts.
Eagle Valley's double-wing offense relies on the ability to cut with the football. With or without bad field conditions, the Devils didn't have a chance to look downfield before a Sailors lineman or linebacker was in their faces.
"Every week our defense has gotten better," Finch said. "You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone in the state playing better defense than we are."
The Sailors traditionally operate out of a 3-5 scheme with three down linemen and five linebackers. For the Eagle Valley game, however, Steamboat switched to a four-man front with four linebackers.
Senior linebacker Thomas Allen, who had the pivotal interception to set up Hanley's touchdown run, said the transition is an easy one for Steamboat' defense to make.
"We all work really well together," he said. "We all do our jobs."
Eagle Valley finally got on the scoreboard early in the fourth quarter after an 8-yard scoring run by Chris Harvey. Backup quarterback Alex Dorothy, who played off and on for a hobbling Medsker, was stopped short of the goal line on the two-point conversion attempt.
Eagle Valley had two more possessions in the fourth quarter but were not able to convert a first down. Steamboat's Zack Savage and Lane Shipley had pivotal sacks on those drives, forcing Eagle Valley into fourth-and-long situations.
Steamboat was able to run out the clock when Hanley barreled forward for 9 yards on a fourth-and-8 with 40 seconds left in the game.
With the win, Steamboat gets another rematch. This time, Steamboat will travel to face league foe Rifle with a trip to the state finals on the line. The Sailors defeated the Bears, 14-12, on Sept. 16.
Rifle is the defending state champion. The Bears defeated Elizabeth, 35-14, on Saturday in Rifle.
-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org