Steamboat Springs For the second-straight week, the Steamboat Springs football team will face a familiar opponent.
Last week, Steamboat defeated Western Slope League champion Eagle Valley in the quarterfinals. On Saturday, the Sailors get Rifle, a league team they beat earlier this year, 14-12.
The winner of the 1 p.m. game in Rifle will play for the Class 3A state championship next week.
The advantage in facing a league opponent in the playoffs is that familiarity, but that can be a disadvantage, as well.
"There's a side of it that you have to be careful," Sailors coach Aaron Finch said. "You have a game for them to look at."
Not that either team is going to take much from the Sept. 16 game film.
In Steamboat's defeat of Rifle, the defending Class 3A state champions, the Sailors blew the game open in the first quarter, scoring 14 unanswered points. But -- as was customary during September -- Steamboat allowed the Bears to hang around.
The Bears scored 12 unanswered points in the second quarter but couldn't break through against the Sailors' defense in the second half. Neither team had more than 175 yards in total offense.
"Obviously, Rifle and Steam--boat are playing a lot better," Finch said.
The Sailors are coming off one of the uglier games of the season, thanks to poor field conditions at Gardner Field. But their 14-6 upset of Eagle Valley on Nov. 18 was one of their most dominant performances of the season.
Steamboat's offense scored off two Eagle Valley turnovers, and the defense gave up just 101 yards on offense to one of the more explosive running teams in the state.
"Our line had their best game of the year on both sides of the ball," Finch said. "They played incredibly well."
The offensive line helped sophomore Jay Hanley pile up 163 yards rushing.
"Jay had a really fine game, but boy, did he have a lot of room to run," Finch said. "Our backs had room to get up speed. We ran behind (tight end) Jace Bonner a lot. It was great. The other thing I noticed was we were pretty darn physical."
The Sailors also are expecting a physical game Saturday in Rifle.
The Bears are notoriously dis--ciplined, fundamentally sound and great at running the football. They got off to a slow start offensively this season as they mixed in newcomers, but they appear to be in sync now.
"I think anybody at this point in the season is playing with more confidence and minimizing those game-changing mistakes," Bears coach Damon Wells said.
Rifle racked up 350 rushing yards in its 35-14 pounding of Elizabeth in the quarterfinals. Tyler Thompson and Bryce Enewold combined for 207 yards rushing. Rifle upset top-ranked Northridge in the first round, 21-20.
"We always feel like we have a chance," Wells said. "We've learned going over to the Front Range is no big deal. The first round of playoffs is just our Week 11."
Although the Bears (8-4) may have an edge in postseason experience, the Sailors (10-2) have been equally impressive in their first postseason run, with Finch at the helm.
Steamboat is flying to the ball on defense and dominating the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
"We are having a great time," Finch said.
The winner of Saturday's semifinal will host the Class 3A championship. Steamboat would host that game because it has hosted just one home game this postseason. Alamosa and Florence -- the two teams in the other semifinal -- each have hosted two games.
Rifle, on the other hand, won two coin flips done by the Colorado High School Activities Association, to get the home field.
Saturday's game can be heard on 100.5 or 107.3 FM.
-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley, call 871-4208 or e-mail email@example.com