Another Steamboat Springs football game. Another close finish. But this time, the Sailors weren't victorious.
After winning two overtime games and coming from behind in two others, Steamboat's string of late-game heroics ended Friday when Eagle Valley won, 16-13.
On fourth-and-3 from the 5-yard line with 39 seconds left in the game, Devils quarterback Michael Medsker rolled out and found Sean Matheson at the goal line for the winning touchdown pass.
The Devils' sideline erupted.
"I cut my route short," said Matheson, who was supposed to run to the back corner. "(Steamboat's defensive back) had good coverage."
Steamboat dropped to 6-2 overall and 4-2 in Western Slope League play heading into its bye week. Eagle Valley improved to 6-1 overall and 5-1 in the league, taking sole possession of second place.
"They were such a good football team," Steamboat coach Aaron Finch said.
With each team ranked in the top 10 in the state -- Eagle Valley at No. 5 and Steamboat at No. 6 -- Friday's homecoming game was expected to be close.
Steamboat had chances early, however, to open what likely would have been an insurmountable lead when Eagle Valley fumbled the ball three times in the first quarter.
"We got real angry," Math-eson said. "We didn't think we'd come back."
But the Sailors scored seven points off those turnovers. Another possession ended in a missed field goal.
Their first score of the game came on a beautiful 17-yard floater from junior quarterback Tanner Stillwell to senior Tanner Grimes in the left corner of the end zone with 3:39 left in the first quarter. Stillwell put the ball up where only Grimes could get it.
"That was pretty sweet," Stillwell said.
Eagle Valley put together an 11-play drive that ended on a failed fourth-down conversion attempt on its next possession. Steamboat's defense stopped Eagle Valley twice on fourth down, in addition to recovering four of Eagle Valley's seven fumbles in Friday's game.
Eagle Valley coach John Ramunno, a 1975 graduate of Steamboat Springs High School and son of longtime Sailors coach Carl Ramunno, said the Devils were lucky to win.
"We talked all week about playing the perfect game -- no turnovers, no penalties," Ramunno said. "It must have gone in one ear and out the other."
The Devils got on the scoreboard late in the first half on a 7-yard pass from Medsker to Matheson. The two-point conversion was successful. The drive was set up by Kenny Slaughter's interception, Steamboat's lone turnover.
"It was big," Matheson said. "We went into the locker room pumped up."
Neither offense looked particularly sharp Friday, but no one was expecting a high-scoring game. Both teams are run-oriented with stingy defenses. Steamboat had just 139 total yards compared to Eagle Valley's 226 yards. The longest play of Friday's game was Grimes' 17-yard touchdown reception.
"Their speed neutralized our speed. Our speed neutralized their speed," Finch said. "We took away each other's offense."
Stillwell and junior Westin Cofer, a linebacker and running back, said Eagle Valley showed a look on defense they hadn't seen on film.
"We'd seen a 5-2," Cofer said. "They ran a 4-4. Their nose guard would shade off the center. We checked it at the beginning of the half."
Consequently, Steamboat put together its best drive of the game, going 56 yards on the legs of Stillwell, Cofer and senior Walker Hammond, who led the Sailors with 72 yards on 18 carries. But the Sailors stalled out and had to attempt a 31-yard field goal that Eagle Valley's Mason Ewing -- all 5-foot-9 of him -- blocked.
"Our defense played solid," Ramunno said. "I'm happy with that."
Eagle Valley coughed the ball up again on its next possession, giving Steamboat another short field to work with. On third-and-11 at the Eagle Valley 11, Stillwell looked for an open receiver, found none and scampered in for the go-ahead score.
The two-point conversion failed, giving Steamboat a 13-8 lead with 1:53 left in the third.
"I saw a wide-open lane," Stillwell said. "If nothing is open, Coach tells me to tuck and run."
Steamboat's lead held up through the remainder of the third and most of the fourth until Eagle Valley put together its game-winning drive, a 47-yard drive kept alive by Medsker, who had nearly all of his 43 yards rushing on the final possession.
"I think we underestimated their quarterback's speed," Stillwell said.
The win gives Eagle Valley the inside track for a home playoff game, and Steamboat, still very much alive for the postseason, will try to hang on for third place with games against Delta and Glenwood Springs.
-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org