Sailors nearly upset champs |

Sailors nearly upset champs

Melinda Mawdsley

Steamboat football coach Aaron Finch loves his Sailors team. He loves their fire. He loves their competitiveness. He loves their desire to hit hard. But he hates that Steamboat left Gardner Field on the losing end of another winnable game, especially since the latest loss came against defending state champion Palisade, 35-28.

Steamboat lost to Arvada on Sept. 4.

“I can’t stand the idea of playing with these teams that people didn’t think we would be able to and not win these games,” Finch said. “This is the best 0-2 team I’ve been a part of.”

After watching his top-ranked Palisade team nearly squander a two-touchdown lead in the final quarter, Bulldogs coach Todd Casebier isn’t going to disagree. He was quick to compliment first-year coach Aaron Finch and the Sailors’ defense after the Bulldogs’ win, but Casebier was quick to point the finger at himself, noting a fourth-quarter call he made as inexcusable.

The play in question was a reverse, the only one called all game. The exchange between quarterback Jake Watt and senior tailback Kyle Britton was disrupted by Steamboat junior Sam Gary and booted around before senior linebacker Charlie Pappas, who led Steamboat’s defense with 20 tackles, fell on the football.

Senior running back Brad Bonner scored shortly thereafter on a 4-yard run. Steamboat quarterback Tyler Fosdick, one week removed from being knocked out of the Arvada game with an injury, ran untouched into the far side of the end zone for the two-point conversion to bring the Sailors to within eight points, 28-20.

“I did sense some doubt on our sideline,” Casebier said. “Instead of playing to win we were playing not to lose. … I made a bad call on the reverse. We never should have put the ball on the ground. The game changed immediately.”

After Steamboat freshman Ben DeLine’s kickoff, Palisade started over at its 22-yard line with 5 minutes, 39 seconds left in the game. On third-and-one, Watt kept the ball and tried to work past the front line of the Sailors’ defense. He didn’t land with the football, as Pappas and senior Chris Baumann smacked Watts and stripped him of the ball.

Steamboat took over at the Palisade 19-yard line. Fosdick threw one incomplete pass. On the next snap, however, he tucked the ball away and scrambled toward the right corner of the end zone. He squeezed through a Palisade defender and the orange pylon for the 19-yard touchdown run.

Bonner scored the conversion on a 34-blast call Pappas suggested, evening the game and sending the Sailors’ sideline into a frenzy.

But when Palisade needed a score, it found a way to get it done, driving 89 yards in 2:51 for the game-winning score off Watt’s 41-yard run down the far sideline in front of his bench.

It was the only possession Palisade scored on that was not the result of a Steamboat turnover or a special teams mistake.

Steamboat’s last-ditch effort to tie the game ended when Fosdick threw an interception trying to get the ball to Pappas, allowing Palisade to run out the remaining 49 seconds on the clock.

One week after surrendering 14 points of turnovers at Arvada, the Sailors watched another team score 21 points off their mistakes. Palisade’s Britton also returned a kickoff 90 yards for a score.

Take away those plays, one negated Bonner touchdown because of a holding penalty and a negated Clay McKenzie touchdown on a recovered fumble early in the game, and the scoreboard looks drastically different Friday night.

“Coach Finch has this program going in the right direction,” Casebier said. “I thought Steamboat’s defense did some great things. They have some tough people on defense.”

Losing by seven and knowing you could have won by double digits hurts more than getting blown out, said McKenzie, a linebacker who had 18 tackles for Steamboat’s defense. But he said the Sailors learned a lot about themselves in the loss.

“We learned we could take the No. 1 team in the state,” he said. “We never gave up.”

Palisade improves to 2-0 with the win and is 1-0 in the Western Slope League. Steamboat drops to 0-2 and 0-1 with a trip to Rifle on the horizon.

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