Steamboat Springs Vail coach John McGuire just looked down at the ground and shook his head.
He admitted it wasn’t Vail’s best game by any means.
But the team proved itself the class of the Mountain League for the third straight year, beating Steamboat, 31-17, in a winner-take-all game.
“I think in the end, the guys pulled together,” McGuire said. “They decided they were going to win the game. They did just enough to close the door. It wasn’t definitive, but it was enough.”
Vail certainly enjoyed the run of play for most of Saturday at Whistler Field. The team was deeper than host Steamboat and was able to use the play of its athletic fullbacks to eliminate Steamboat’s kicking game.
Vail went up 14-0 early in the first thanks to tries by Bob Barrett and Mike Cooke. Steamboat cut it to 14-7 before Vail’s Paul Steyn made it 19-7 right before half.
The Green and Gold initially took advantage in the second half, when a Chris Baumann try cut it to 19-12.
But Steamboat had a pair of injuries, and Baumann was sent off with a yellow card, swinging things back Vail’s way.
“They disrupted all of our set pieces whether it was a line out ball or a scrum ball,” Steamboat coach Julian Bristow said. "We were living on scraps after that.”
Vail’s Ben Stratten and Connor Cooke added tries to extend it to 31-12 before Nigel Hammond scored late for the final result.
“In the first half, we were lucky to have a few bounces go our way,” McGuire said. “But then we took control of the physical play. There was no pattern, but we outwilled them.”
The two teams next play Saturday in Breckenridge at the Ski Town Classic.
To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com