Aurora The realities of high school football can be cruel.
As storied a run as it was, as much as it seemed like destiny, and as much as fate seemed to be looking down on Legacy Stadium, Saturday’s Class 3A state championship game just wasn’t meant to be for the Steamboat Springs High School football team.
Instead, Valor Christian, which will move to Class 4A next season, put its first emphatic stamp on Colorado football with a resounding 41-14 win.
And judging by Saturday’s performance, golden balls and state championships look like they’ll be a regular thing at the Highlands Ranch school, which is in just its second year of varsity football.
“We play as hard as we can, trying to really create men of Valor,” Eagles coach Brent Vieselmeyer said. “You take care of those things, good things will happen. It’s just like the Steamboat kids. Those are great kids. But, yeah, winning is good too.”
Steamboat coach Aaron Finch acknowledged the skill level the Sailors were up against.
“Valor is a really good football team, and we saw that,” he conceded. “You need all your pieces working together. When you don’t have a run game that needs to be respected, defenses can tee off. They can blitz to get to the quarterback and not stop the run.”
That in essence was the game.
The Sailors were without the services of two key cogs in Joe Dover and Jack Verploeg. Dover, who got in for one play Saturday, was still recovering from a nasty ankle injury suffered in the semifinals Nov. 28 against Pueblo Central. Verploeg had concussion-like symptoms from the Central game.
That meant Steamboat was without two starters on offense and defense.
Without Dover roaming centerfield on defense or creating plays on offense, the Sailors struggled.
Dover came into the game averaging a touchdown every six touches. His yards from scrimmage were 39 percent of Steamboat’s.
Without that — and a scrappy Verploeg who was integral on both sides of the ball — the Sailors couldn’t ever get into a rhythm.
But it’s unclear whether it would have even mattered if the two were healthy. Valor, in the simplest terms, was a darn good football team and certainly the best Steamboat had seen all year.
The Eagles outgained the Sailors 388 yards to 199. Valor created three Steamboat turnovers, sacked quarterback Austin Hinder eight times and got contributions from what seemed like an endless stable.
Five Eagles scored touchdowns, led by the slick work of quarterback Brock Berglund.
The junior came as advertised, completing eight of 14 passes for 196 yards and four touchdowns. He also ran for 43 more yards and a touchdown.
“We just kept fighting and moving forward,” said Berglund, who was part of the inaugural freshmen class at Valor in 2007. “That was our goal three years ago. We fought hard and got it done. We’re young, and we fight like crazy. We just got it done.”
Steamboat got off to a fast start, however.
Three plays in, Steamboat had a 7-0 lead on a 51-yard touchdown run by Hinder.
But Valor didn’t just answer, the team made a statement.
The Eagles scored on five of their first six possessions, including three first-quarter touchdown passes by Berglund.
Hinder again did what he could, cutting the lead to 21-14 early in the second quarter on another 51-yard touchdown run.
But Berglund brought the Eagles right back. He orchestrated a five-play, 76-yard drive, capping it off with a 1-yard plunge to make it 28-14.
Steamboat looked like it would answer, but turned the ball over on downs at the Valor 37-yard line.
On the ensuing drive, Steamboat had Valor in a third and 26, when a pass interference call kept the Eagles’ drive alive.
Two plays later, Valor freshman Cameron Gray — who finished with 107 yards on just 10 carries — scampered 64 yards for a touchdown and a 35-14 halftime lead.
“It’s how hard we worked to get to this point,” said Hinder, who finished with 94 yards on 16 carries to go along with 91 yards passing. “It’s going to sit with me forever that we didn’t make it. But in a few years, it’ll be pretty special. It’s too bad we didn’t close it out.”
The Sailors had a chance in the second half, stopping the Eagles on the opening possession of the half.
But Steamboat’s Jack Spady battled the wind on the punt and muffed it, giving the ball back to Valor.
The Eagles closed the game out midway through the fourth quarter when Berglund hit tight end Blake Froistad from 20 yards out to push the score to 41-14.
“We couldn’t quite put the pieces together offensively,” Finch said. “Defensively, we lost a lot of speed having Jack and Joe out. You needed that to play a team like that. But the guys played their hearts out. I’m proud of them.”
The biggest thing might have been Steamboat’s inability to run the ball. Besides Hinder’s numbers — when you take out sacks, they added up to eight carries for 149 yards — Steamboat rushed for just 14 yards on four carries.
This allowed the Valor defensive linemen to line up and go for Hinder.
“Our defensive line is one of our strengths,” Vieselmeyer said. “We weren’t sure how long we could cover them, so we figured we’d better get after Hinder. He did a good job. Every time we gave him a lane, he was very elusive.”
Although moral victories carried as much weight as a mouse on Saturday, Finch went quiet when asked what he’d remember from this group.
It wasn’t necessarily the wins or losses, weightlifting session in July or Friday nights in the fall.
Rather, this group reminded Finch of what success actually means.
“It’s the concept of continuous improvement,” Finch said. “This team, more than any other team I’ve coached, bought into that. They came out to practice, and they got better every day. Even though we were a pretty good football team at the beginning of the year, we kept getting better. I hope that’s something they’ll carry for the rest of their lives.”
— To reach Luke Graham, call 871-4229 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org