Sailors football smashes past Pueblo Central |

Sailors football smashes past Pueblo Central

Team beat Central, 35-7, for bid to state 3A title game against Valor Christian

Luke Graham

Steamboat Springs High School assistant football coach Jerry Stabile celebrates with seniors Bryce Mayo, left, and Mitchell Lekarczyk after Saturday's win over Pueblo Central.

— Before Satur­day's semifinal game, the boys from Pueblo always had been bigger, meaner, tougher and just flat-out nastier than the Steamboat Springs High School football team.

Save for the bigger part, all that changed on Saturday.

Steamboat, who had seen its season end twice in the past four years in Pueblo, put together its best performance of the year.

There was little Pueblo Central could do to contain Steamboat's offense, and defensively the Sailors were as downright stingy, nasty, mean and tough as any team the program has seen in Pueblo.

The end result was a 35-7 shellacking and a berth in the state championship game at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Legacy Stadium in Aurora against undefeated Valor Christian.

"It's about time to (quit talking about our size) considering we have a line that was just outweighed by 50 pounds," Steamboat's running back and free safety Joe Dover said. "They only scored seven points on us."

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Actually, Joe, Pueblo's front lines averaged 241 pounds, while Steamboat's tipped the scales at a sleek 187 pounds.

But the Sailors actually did prove that size isn't everything.

From the first possession, where Steamboat actually received the ball on the opening kickoff after winning the toss for the first time all year, the Sailors did whatever they wanted.

Two plays in, Jack Spady caught a 43-yard touchdown pass from Austin Hinder for a 6-0 lead.

And, boy, was that a sign of things to come.

Sailors coach Aaron Finch played his hand early, showing that

Steamboat was going to air the ball out against Pueblo Central.

The Sailors threw the ball on nine of their first 13 plays from scrimmage and found a niche no team had been able to find all year against the Wildcats.

"We felt if we could take the ball first and score early, that was our best chance," Finch said. "If they were able to get going early, get physical and score on us, that was going to be a potentially long day for us."

It wasn't.

Offensively, Steamboat quarterback Austin Hinder had one of his best days as a prep quarterback. The senior completed 19 of 28 passes for 329 yards and two touchdowns. Spady, who found himself in man coverage for the first time in nearly two months, caught a suave 12 balls for 211 yards to go with his opening touchdown.

"Me and (Spady)? I've been throwing with him since second grade," said Hinder, who was coming off three straight games where he struggled. "We're on the same page. I have so much confidence in him."

But believe it or not, Steamboat did find itself down.

Pueblo Central turned a Steamboat fumble into a 7-6 lead on its second drive of the game. With the ball on their own 39-yard line, the Wildcats used five plays before quarterback Max Lerille took it in from eight yards out to give Central the lead.

But on the next Steamboat play from scrimmage, Dover — running out of the wildcat formation — took the ball 67 yards up the left sideline and, after a 2-point conversion, Steamboat led 14-7.

"That's tough. That's why we're a good team," said Dover, who had three touchdowns, 111 yards rushing, 54 yards receiving and caused a crucial fumble on defense. "There are so many teams in 3A that aren't versatile like us. They only got one threat. That's why we're good. We can do anything, and our defense will stop it."

The Wildcats failed on fourth down during their next possession, before Hinder found Dover from 18 yards out to give Steamboat a 20-7 lead at halftime.

"Just way too many mistakes to play a good Steamboat football team like that," Central coach Dave Craddock said. "We preached all week don't give them extra possessions. You give a team like that extra possessions, and they're going to make you pay."

Still, just down 20-7 at halftime, Central felt like it was in the game. The Wildcats got the ball at the half and had been in this position before.

Central trailed Falcon, 20-7, at halftime earlier this season before rebounding to win, 28-20.

But that's when this Steamboat team defined itself.

The Sailors defense forced the Wildcats to punt on their first possession of the second half. The punt sailed all the way to the Steamboat 4-yard line.

The ensuing drive is what state-championship-caliber teams are made of. The Sailors went 96 yards in nine plays that took just 2 minutes, 57 seconds off the clock before Dover scored from 33 yards out for a 28-7 lead.

"We go as hard as we can. Hell, we've been outsized all year," Steamboat middle linebacker Mitch Lekarczyk said. "If you go slow, you're going to get your (butt) whipped. If you go fast, you have a chance at winning. Just look at what we did."

From there, it wasn't really a question of whether Steamboat would win, but just by how much.

Steamboat's defense held Central to a turnover on downs and a fumble on the Wildcats' next two possessions, before Sailors senior Dylan Pivarnik capped the game off with an 11-yard scamper in the fourth quarter to make the score 35-7.

The Steamboat defense forced an interception by Jack Verploeg in the end zone late in the fourth quarter, before winding the clock out.

But again, it was the Steam­boat defense that helped steal the show. The Sailors limited the Wildcats to 288 yards of offense, including just 159 on the ground. Central running back Keanu Valdez came into the game with 1,738 yards and 21 touchdowns.

Valdez got his yards on Saturday — rushing for 121 on 23 carries — but didn't score and could never break a long run.

"I didn't expect it to go quite like that," Verploeg said. "But we prepared for what they were going to do all week. After the first series, our defense got used to it."

Steamboat now prepares for Valor Christian, a team that beat Mountain View, 21-7, in the other side of the bracket.

Valor, in its second year of varsity football, is 13-0 and won the Metro League. The two teams share one common opponent in Glenwood Springs. Valor beat Glenwood, 51-28, and Steamboat beat Glenwood, 30-21.

The Eagles are led by junior quarterback Brock Berglund, who has thrown for 1,889 yards and 26 touchdowns and run for 794 yards and another 13 touchdowns.

"What I hear, they are a very talented football team," Finch said. "They're 13-0. They throw the ball really, really well, and they run it really well. I know very little, but it's two 13-0 football teams going at it. It's fun to be there."

Championship game tickets

The Sailors will play Valor Christian at 2:30 p.m. Dec. 5 at Legacy Stadium in Aurora. Tickets are $8 for adults and $6 for students and seniors. They’re available here.

Keys to the game

  1. Will Pueblo Central’s size dictate the game?

No. The Steamboat Springs offense was on the field more than Pueblo Central’s, but the key was that it was more effective. Steamboat’s defense used its speed to neutralize a big and physical Central team. The Sailors were able to get their athletes in open space and the rest was history.

  1. Can Steamboat get off to a fast start?

Yes. The Sailors scored on their second play from scrimmage and ran off to a 20-7 lead in the first half. Despite slow first halves in the playoffs, Steamboat was able to turn Central into a passing team in the second half. Considering that the Wildcats relied heavily on their running all season, it was definitely advantage for thes Sailors.

  1. Who will win the turnover and penalty battle?

Steamboat. The Sailors created three turnovers, the Wildcats just one. But the key was Steamboat’s turning the Central turnovers into points. The Sailors turned two turnovers by the Wildcats into 14 points.

If you go

What: Steamboat vs. Valor Christian

When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Legacy Stadium in Aurora

Game statistics

Steamboat Springs Pueblo Central

15 First Downs 13

27-164 Rushes-Yards 38-159

19-28-0 Comp-Att-Int 7-15-1

329 Yards Passing 129

493 Total Yards 288

4-39 Punts-Avg. 4-46

1-1 Fumbles-lost 3-2

9-71 Penalties-Yards 9-65


Pueblo Central 07-00-00-00—7

Steamboat 14-06-08-07—35


■ First Quarter

SS: 11:09, Jack Spady 43 pass from Austin Hinder. (Kick fail.) PC — 3:06, Max Lerille 8 run. (Nate Richards kick.)

SS: 2:51, Joe Dover 67 run. (Dover pass from Spady.)

■ Second Quarter

SS: 11:39, Dover 18 pass from Hinder. (Kick fail.)

■ Third Quarter

SS: 7:06, Dover 33 run. (Dylan Pivarnik pass from Hinder.)

■ Fourth Quarter

SS: 11:54, Pivarnik 11 run. (Peter Schuette kick.)


■ Rushing

SS: Dover 7-111, 2 TD; Hinder 11-9; Pivarnik 2-21, 1 TD; Connor Landusky 7-23.

PC: Keanu Valdez 23-121; Lerille 10-9, 1 TD; Byram Brown 4-27; Darian Hatchett 1-2.

■ Passing

SS: Hinder 19-28-0, 329 yards, 2 TD.

PC: Lerille 7-15-1, 129 yards.

■ Receiving

SS: Spady 12-211, 1 TD; Dover 3-54, 1 TD; Jack Verploeg 3-55; Cody Harris 1-9.

PC: Brown 2-57; Valdez 3-37; Trent Thompson 2-35.

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