Sailors, Devils face off

No. 6 Steamboat vs. No. 5 Eagle Valley

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Sailors vs. DevilsWhen: 7 p.m. todayRadio: KRMR 100.5 or 107.3 FM

— Marilyn Ramunno is proud of Steamboat Springs High School football.

"I always read about them or listen to the radio if I'm home," she said.

But her allegiance shifts once a year because her late husband, Carl Ramunno, a longtime Sailors coach, had a saying around the house.

"My husband said blood is thicker than water," Ramunno said.

And blood will be standing on the Eagle Valley sideline tonight.

John Ramunno, a 1975 graduate of Steamboat Springs High School, is in his 26th year coaching the Devils. He is a former lineman with the Sailors and was a student teacher during their 1979 state championship season.

When he went searching for a job, he wanted to be in a small school system like Steamboat's. He found Eagle Valley.

"I was going to be here one year," he said. "Now, they can't get rid of me. I wanted to come to a small school where you could really get to know the kids. I had that at Steamboat, too. Everyone really meant something to the program."

Few programs on the Western Slope are having as much success as the Sailors and Devils are this season. Steamboat (6-1 overall, 4-1 in league play) enters today's 7 p.m. homecoming game ranked No. 6 in the state. Eagle Valley (5-1 overall, 3-1 in league play) is No. 5.

"I don't know how you can make it any bigger," Ramunno said about the game. "We both have one league loss. The guy who wins this game will probably get the inside track to a home playoff game. The fact that it's Steamboat's homecoming makes it a bigger game for them. We know they won't take this one lightly."

With the exception of Palisade, Eagle Valley is arguably the best team Steamboat has faced this season, including Class 4A opponent Arvada. The Devils don't have a lot of size, but they have speed and experience.

"Last year, we kind of started the season on a sour note with our quarterback breaking his hand," Ramunno said. "Looking back, it gave us an opportunity to look at younger kids. As the year went on, we improved and played people tough."

Tough is a Ramunno trademark, Sailors coach Aaron Finch said.

"The things they say about Carl have rubbed off on his sons," Finch said. "What we've lined up with off film, all but three starters are seniors. Eagle Valley always executes really, really well, but they are better this year."

Eagle Valley runs a double-wing offense that Ramunno introduced "when Y2K hit, because we thought we needed a change."

It enables the Devils to put their best athletes on the field and let their speed take over games.

"Any one of four guys can end up with the ball," Finch said. "If you watch film, they'll go 2, 3, 5, 2, 80 yards. They score on big, big plays. Most of their touchdowns in the two games we watched were long runs."

Steamboat's defense has done an excellent job of limiting big plays this season. The Sailors have given up few long scoring drives. When opponents score on Steamboat, it's usually off a turnover, when the Sailors give the opposition a short field.

Steamboat has five of the state's top-50 tacklers this season, according to the Rocky Mountain News. They are Westin Cofer (5th), Thomas Allen (18th), Nigel Hammond (23rd), Sam Gary (28th) and Lane Shipley (49th).

Steamboat will have a rare size advantage in tonight's game, but Eagle Valley's offense is based more on blocking angles than blocking straight on. The Sailors' defense, which has been difficult to run against, is based on confusing opponents with stunts and blitzes.

The key for both teams will be field position and limited turnovers. Finch said Gardner Field is wet, and that's not going to change, but no new moisture is forecast. The temperature will be chilly, but both teams are used to fall weather at altitude.

Now, both just want to play ball.

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