Steamboat Springs It would be easy for the Steamboat Springs football team to overlook Montezuma-Cortez tonight.
After all, the Panthers have one win this year and haven't beaten a league opponent.
Still, Sailors coach Aaron Finch is proceeding with caution.
"They've had some close ones," Finch said. "As close as last week was against Eagle Valley - they led most of the game, and Eagle Valley beat us - they do pose a challenge. They've been competitive with pretty much everybody."
Last week against Eagle Valley, Montezuma-Cortez (1-6, 0-5 in league play) took a 20-12 lead into the fourth quarter before losing 26-20. The Sailors (5-1, 3-1) lost 16-6 against Eagle Valley earlier in the year.
The big-play ability of the Panthers, and the long trip the Sailors must take to Southwest Colorado, concern Finch the most.
"Everything gets accelerated," Finch said. "It's been a quick week of preparation."
The Sailors left Steamboat at noon Thursday for Grand Junction, where they stayed the night. They also went through a walk-through Thursday afternoon at Mesa State College's practice facility. The team travels to Cortez today.
Finch said the Sailors should expect a hungry Montezuma-Cortez team with an explosive offense led by quarterback Darren Wayman (739 yards passing and 306 yards rushing) and running back and receiver Tim Halper (420 yards rushing and 301 yards receiving). The Panthers run a spread option attack very similar to the one the Sailors saw last week against Delta.
"Their offense is the scary part," Finch said. "They have quick strike ability and they can score points in a hurry. Being up 10-7 in the fourth quarter like last week won't be comfortable."
Finch said the focus in practice this week was on getting the Sailors' offense back on track. After enjoying a rejuvenated running game the past two weeks, Steamboat struggled throwing the ball against Delta, managing only 70 yards.
"I think we're getting better," Finch said. "We're identifying areas where we needed to work on. Offensively, you need everybody to do their jobs for them to be successful."
In what could be a trap game, Finch said he's urged his players not to look ahead to the final three games of the regular season. In practice this week, he said he told the Sailors they need to worry only about themselves, not about what other teams do.
"I made the point that every league game matters," Finch said. "Our conversation focuses around how we play, not who we play. There's less focus on our opponents and their abilities, and more focus on what we need to do."
With the Sailors sitting in second place in the Western Slope League, every game matters, Finch said. A win would keep Steamboat on pace with league-leading Rifle. A loss would drop the Sailors back into a mix of six teams battling for three playoff spots.
"Right now, we're not playing at the level we need to play at," Finch said. "We have to get better, and hopefully we can do that (today)."