The Steamboat Springs football team's next opponent has been its biggest motivator this season.
Last year, Rifle squeaked into the playoffs as the fourth --nd final -- seed from the Western Slope League. The Bears subsequently went on the feel-good ride of the postseason, unexpectedly winning the Class 3A state final.
Steamboat coach Aaron Finch uses Rifle as an example of what's possible for the Sailors.
"The approach we've taken is: make the playoffs," he said. "If you are playing your best football at the end of the year, you can make things interesting."
Steamboat and Rifle have done just that, shaking up the postseason brackets.
The Bears are once again the No. 4 seed from the league and have pulled off two upsets to advance to Saturday's semifinal. Rifle beat Northern League champion Northridge, 21-20, in the first round and whipped Metropolitan League runner-up Elizabeth, 35-14, in the quarterfinals.
Steamboat was the No. 3 seed out of the league and routed Southern League runner-up Harrison, 44-14, in the first round and held off Western Slope League champion Eagle Valley, 14-6, in the quarterfinals.
The Sailors (10-2) and Bears (8-4) were two of the lowest seeded teams on their side of the bracket, but they have persevered, guaranteeing the Western Slope League its fourth-straight representative in the state finals.
Unfortunately, only one can win the 1 p.m. semifinal game Saturday in Rifle.
Steamboat won the regular season meeting between the two schools, 14-12, on Gardner Field, but that's irrelevant now.
"Both teams are playing their best football of the year," Finch said. "All the previous stuff you have to throw out."
Saturday's game can be heard at 100.5 or 107.3 FM. If the Sailors win, they will host the Class 3A championship against Alamosa or Florence.
-- the two teams playing in the other semifinal -- will have hosted two playoff games after Saturday.
Steamboat only has hosted one.