Thursday, September 8, 2005
Despite its youth, the Palisade football team advanced to the state semifinals last season.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the Bulldogs are an easy pick to win the Western Slope League and Class 3A state title.
"They come out expecting to beat you," Steamboat Springs coach Aaron Finch said. "It's a great challenge for this team."
The Bulldogs will be the best team the Sailors have seen. But this year, unlike last year, Steamboat heads into tonight's game undefeated, too.
Palisade opened with a 29-0 win against Pueblo County. Steamboat defeated Aurora Central and Arvada behind a strong ground game and two fourth-quarter comebacks.
"The preseason is over, and now they count," Finch said. "It's nice to get through that with some momentum and good feelings about our kids' capabilities."
Finch consistently praised the work ethic of Steamboat's players, and the team has been rewarded with two nonleague wins. Now, the heart of its schedule and its push toward the playoffs start.
"I'm glad we are playing so well in the fourth quarter," Finch said. "The challenge for us is to be prepared to play four quarters. Obviously, we are fit and don't have any give-up. We've been tested and come back in the fourth. That's a great kind of team to have."
Steamboat faces Palisade, defending state champion Rifle and Moffat County in the next three weeks. The schedule isn't favorable, but Steamboat is ahead of where it was last year, especially on defense, where the new 3-5 scheme has been a great fit for the small but quick personnel.
The Sailors have given up points, but they are holding opponents to just 64 yards rushing a game. The Bulldogs traditionally run the ball well.
Former defensive coordinator John Arledge has replaced Todd Casebier as Palisade's head coach.
"They have a great offensive line, as big as there is in the league this year," Finch said. "They are running the same schemes defensively, and their offense looks very much the same at this point. But coaches all put our own stamp on it."
Kickoff for the Steamboat and Palisade game is at 8 p.m. today at Stocker Stadium in Grand Junction. The game can be heard live on KRMR 100.5 and 107.3 FM with Brian Harvey and Jay White.