Sailors look to wrap-up league title |

Sailors look to wrap-up league title

Luke Graham

Seven weeks ago, the Steamboat Springs football team walked off the field after a 16-6 loss to Eagle Valley searching for an identity.

They could have wilted or packed it in for the season.

Instead they’ve put five consecutive victories together, including three in a row in which the Sailors have been exceptionally sound in all facets of the game.

“We’re playing with a lot of confidence now” Sailors head coach Aaron Finch said. “I think when we started worrying less about how good our opponents were and more about how well we’ve played, we starting building that momentum.”

Maybe the most impressive of the victories yet came Friday against Rifle. Playing on the same field where they lost in the state semifinals last year, the Sailors didn’t just win they dominated.

“It was a big mental hump to get over and go down to Rifle and get a win,” Finch said. “For them to come out and play the way we did shows how much we’ve matured as a team.”

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After playing well against Moffat County and then struggling with Delta, Finch said the last three games – wins against Montezuma-Cortez, Glenwood Springs and Rifle – the offensive line has spurred the solid play. The group of Lane Shipley, Alex Centner, Joey Melius, Matt Beilhartz, Ammad Akkad and Mac Marsh have helped the Sailors have averaged more than 300 yards of total offense the last three weeks, including gaining at least 180 yards rushing in all three games.

“To be able to run the football on (Rifle) was key,” Finch said. “It set up our pass. The success on our bootleg plays was all about those guys up front.”

At points earlier in the season, the Sailors struggled moving the ball on the ground. With only Shipley and Centner as returning starters, Finch said the group up front was fairly inexperienced. The turning point came when Shipley went out for two weeks with a knee injury. Finch said he challenged the rest of the line to become a unit and work together in Shipley’s absence.

“When Lane was out for those two weeks, they bonded and realized they needed to step up,” Finch said. “They’re doing a great job. They’ve all stepped up.”

The Sailors offensive line should face a good test this week when they take on Battle Mountain. The Huskies have one of the biggest defensive lines in the conference.

“Battle Mountain plays a five man line so someone will be on each one of our line,” Finch said. “That will be a test for our guys but they’ve stepped up all year and got the job done.”

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