Sailors complete 'the drive'

Fourth-quarter score topples Palisade

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Plain and simple, the Steamboat Springs offense was in a funk.

It struggled to move the ball, and Sailors coach Aaron Finch said his team looked tense.

Then came "the drive" in the fourth quarter with 7 minutes, 52 seconds left.

Trailing 7-3, the Sailors took the ball at the Palisade 42-yard line, drove 12 plays and scored the game-winning touchdown.

Despite a missed extra point the Sailors (3-0, 1-0 in the Western Slope League) held on for a 9-7 win.

"I pointed at the clock and said, 'I don't care if we lose at this point. I just want you to finish strong - finish playing football and relax,'" Finch said of his pep talk before the game-winning drive. "We did, and it was just kind of sandlot kind of play."

On the drive, Steamboat quarterback Tanner Stillwell eluded the rush twice to keep plays alive.

The second time, he rolled out to his right, stepped up and threw a 9-yard touchdown pass across the field to Westin Cofer.

"I was just trying to stay up - trying to get a first down," Stillwell said. "Everyone was coming across, and I saw Westin, and I just threw it where he was."

The game paired two of the best defenses in the state.

Palisade (2-1, 0-1) had 142 total yards. Steamboat had 154.

"It was good to see our scheme worked against them," Finch said. "They have that inside trap stuff, and they're big boys who fire off the line. It's good to see that what we do works against probably the best power running game in the state."

Steamboat was without starting running back Jay Hanley because of a hip injury.

Finch said Hanley played at about 80 percent last week against Laramie, and he didn't want to risk further injury.

He said Hanley should be ready for next week's game against Eagle Valley.

Still, the Sailors were able to mount a running game behind Sean Forney and Eric Bonner.

"I was nervous - real nervous," said Bonner, a sophomore who rushed for 50 yards on 14 carries. "But I was hoping to get some playing time for sure."

The Sailors struck first in the second quarter when junior kicker Ben Deline nailed a 51-yard field goal.

The kick was the longest in school history and gave the Sailors a 3-0 lead heading into halftime.

"I wanted to go out," Deline said. "Every chance you get, you have to have confidence that you'll make it."

In the third quarter, Palisade recovered a Steamboat Springs fumble and drove the ball 48 yards, capped off by Aaron Wagler's 17-yard touchdown run.

The extra point gave the Bulldogs a 7-3 lead.

On the next Sailor possession, Palisade forced an interception and looked like it had the momentum.

After the Bulldogs turned the ball over on downs and then had to punt on their next possession, the Sailors mounted their game-winning touchdown.

For Finch, the win marks the first time he has beaten Palisade.

Still, he said this win doesn't guarantee the Sailors a playoff spot in the tough Western Slope.

"Winning the tough games is huge," he said. "You feel good about where we're at, but we have to get some guys healthy, keep working hard, keep getting better and play better than this to do what we want to do this year."

Said Cofer: "I think this win should have a lot of people worried, but that's what we want. We're still tied for last in our books though. We got a lot of games to go to get there."

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