League title on the line

Sailors, Bears to face off for top spot

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— With a playoff position already locked up, Steamboat Springs head football coach Aaron Finch said his team would like to check off another one of its goals - winning a league championship.

The Sailors (7-1, 5-1 in Western Slope League) and Rifle (6-2, 6-0) will square off at 7 p.m. today in Rifle to decide just that.

"This is fun," Finch said. "You start to think about the coming season as soon as the other one is done - working out in the weight room, going to summer camps, two-a-days. It's fun to have a couple of exciting games here looking for a league championship."

The Sailors are coming off their most complete game of the year, a 31-6 rout of Glenwood Springs. Steamboat gained more than 300 total yards of offense in that game and held the high-scoring Glenwood Springs team to just 200 yards of offense, most of which came late in the fourth quarter.

Finch called it the best game the Sailors played all year, but he said Steamboat's focus on defense will have to change against Rifle.

After playing three teams that run spread offenses, the Sailors need to be ready for a Rifle team with arguably the best running attack in the league.

"We're back to Palisade and Moffat County's kind of offense," Finch said, referring to games earlier in the year against run-oriented teams. "We're getting gears shifted around and getting ready for that football. (Rifle) looks so much like a Rifle team. They have the characteristic of being really physical kids, and they're always very well-coached."

Finch said Rifle is a disciplined team that is used to playing in big games and the postseason. The Bears have advanced to the Class 3A state championship game each of the past two years. They won the state championship in 2004.

"They play hard and play with a lot of confidence," Finch said. "That's just a part of who they are."

Rifle coach Damon Wells said he couldn't draw comparisons from this year's team to the two that advanced to the state championship game. But he said his team's mentality is to take games one at a time.

"We just look at a week at a time. Even now, at 6-0 in the league, we don't talk about December and the playoffs. We talk about this week."

Both coaches said the game most likely will come down to which team takes better care of the ball. The teams split two meetings last year - Steamboat won the regular season matchup, 14-12, and Rifle won in the state semifinals, 14-7. In both games, the team with the fewest turnovers won.

"Last year's playoff game came down to a battle of turnovers," Wells said. "We both fumbled inside the 10-yard line, and it was a one-possession game. If one of the teams turns the ball over four or five times (today), that will be monumental to overcome."

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