Sailors struggle to make plays without Dover
Injuries catch up to Steamboat at state
December 6, 2009
Aurora — Steamboat Springs football coach Aaron Finch went on and on about the difficulties of playing in Saturday's 3A state championship game without do-everything senior Joe Dover.
"Without Joe Dover — he's just an incredibly special athlete, and not having him," Finch said, pausing, to a group of Front Range reporters after his team's 41-14 defeat. None of them had asked anything about Dover, and all seemed a little miffed that Finch's answer didn't focus more on star quarterback Austin Hinder. "Trying to create offense without him is tough."
Dover rolled his ankle in the fourth quarter of last week's 35-7 semifinal victory against Pueblo Central, re-aggravating an old injury and adding one final dose of frustration to what turned out to be one of the most spectacular yet ill-fated careers in program history.
He spent the week on crutches and every minute he could spare icing it down. None of that turned out to be enough. Dover didn't practice all week but did suit up and take the field for warm-ups. It was quickly apparent to players and coaches that one of Steamboat's highest fliers would be grounded for the biggest game of the season.
"He said he felt good, but he tried to come out for warm-ups, and it just wasn't happening," Finch said. "If he could have played, he would have."
The crowd chanted for Dover several times in the first half, but he took only one snap. He acted a decoy on that play and then returned to the sideline for the rest of the game.
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Dover's absence did more than change the look of Steamboat's offense. It combined with an injury to Jack Verploeg, who missed the game after sustaining a concussion last week, to change a lot.
It was the first domino, and it led to a series of cause-and-effect decisions that left a few Sailors in unfamiliar positions.
For one, it thrust on Hinder more responsibility than he's had in his entire career. In addition to quarterbacking the team in the biggest game to this point in his life, he stepped in as the team's impromptu punter.
He also played cornerback on defense, stepping over to that side of the ball for the first time since he assumed the role of starting quarterback as a sophomore.
"It wore me out at times," Hinder said. "I will say it did make it a more intense game."
After Jack Spady was moved from cornerback to play safety in place of Dover and without Verploeg, Steamboat was without both of its starting corners.
Valor took advantage, scoring on several big pass plays in the first half.
Spady also assumed Dover's role returning punts. A mistake fielding one punt led to a fumble and a turnover.
"It was just a shock to everyone's system," Spady said. "Joe is such a big part of our team, but it's still something we should have been able to play with. We just didn't do it."
Dover and Verploeg had been two-way players. Dover had been the team's leading running back. This season, he scored one touchdown for every 6.4 times he touched the ball. He also accounted for 39 percent of Steamboat's 4,777 yards of offense this season.
But the effects of their absence ran even deeper than those missing stats, Finch said.
"You lose your depth," he said. "You're doing what you can with the guys you have, but you just run out of pieces. Then you can't spell anyone. You don't have the recourse to get guys off the field and get them breathers.
"One of the good things about this year is that we stayed really healthy. What allowed us to get here was the athletes we had. But there are no excuses. That's a part of high school football at this level. "