Luke Graham's column appears periodically in the Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4229 or lgraham@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs Resilience.
The word was thrown around a lot when discussing this year's Steamboat Springs High School football team.
Saturday in Fort Collins against Fossil Ridge - and throughout the season - it was easy to see why the word was so often used.
At the beginning of the year, this team was hard to figure out.
It had its stable of veteran starters, who had experienced success throughout most of their careers.
It had talented and proven seniors sprinkled throughout the lineup.
But it also had young players with almost no varsity experience at key positions.
With that combination, Sailors coach Aaron Finch knew his team had the playmakers and senior leadership to be a very good football team.
But he also said he wasn't sure when it would happen.
So, after Steamboat started out 1-2 - and looking bad in the process during a win against Kent Denver and a loss against Laramie, Wyo. - it looked like the Sailors wouldn't have a chance to make the playoffs.
But that's where that word - resilience - comes back in.
In a loss against Palisade, it was easy to see Steamboat starting to turn the corner. But a turnover-riddled loss to the Bulldogs put the Sailors in a position where they already were a game down in the league with a road game at Eagle Valley up next.
The Eagle Valley game was the definition of resilience.
After the Devils scored in the last 30 seconds on a 74-yard touchdown pass to tie the game up, it seemed overtime was the destination.
But first-time starter Austin Hinder found three-year starter Nigel Hammond for a 64-yard, game-winning touchdown as time expired.
From there on out, Steamboat found its niche.
Anytime a player went out with injury, someone stepped in.
Anytime a team would score first on Steamboat, the team would score the next five times.
Maybe the biggest sign of this team's resilience came against Fossil Ridge.
The Sailors offense was limited. Their normally vicious running game was scratched out by the best defense they've seen all year.
No problem, though. Steamboat turned to its passing game.
The Sailors' air attack made the game a back-and-forth duel. The SabreCats scored. Steamboat answered.
Then, a drive that might have said the most about this team - and its resilience this year - took place with 54 seconds left in the game.
After the defense had given up a go-ahead score on Fossil Ridge's first pass of the game, the offense got the ball with 54 seconds left and 78 yards to go.
Instead of panicking, the Sailors moved the ball down the field, getting the ball all the way down to the SabreCats 5-yard line.
While two chances to score didn't pan out, the drive encapsulated this Steamboat football team.
Lesser teams would have panicked.
Normal teams wouldn't have had two opportunities inside Fossil Ridge's 10-yard line.
But Steamboat wasn't a normal team.
The team was, in a word, the definition of resilient.
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