Sailors take to the air
Stillwell leads charge with three touchdowns
Steamboat Springs head football coach Aaron Finch knew his team could run the ball but wanted to make a concerted effort to show the Sailors were more balanced on Friday night.
As it turned out, the Sailors not only can throw the ball, but they also can throw it well.
Tanner Stillwell finished 16-of-23 and threw for 213 yards in a 22-19 win against Laramie.
“I’ve been kind of hesitant to make mistakes,” said Stillwell, who also threw for three touchdowns. “Thursday, coach and I talked, and I knew I just had to go out there and play.”
And did Stillwell ever play well.
From the very first drive of the game, Stillwell looked like the three-year starter he is. He completed his first six passes, including a 7-yard touchdown to Westin Cofer.
“Tanner is a great quarterback,” Finch said. “Last year, we just really struggled finding a group of receivers that could gel. : Tonight, we went back to what we installed, and it worked as we expected it to.”
Finch said he knew coming into the game that the Plainsmen would key on running back Jay Hanley. To offset that, the Sailors started the game with two straight passes that covered 44 yards in 34 seconds and left them with a 6-0 lead.
“They were really keying on Jay (Hanley),” Finch said. “Running those stretch boots was a great way to start, and if they overcommitted, there was a good chance Tanner was going to be able to run, but obviously, our receivers were open.”
Still holding a 6-0 lead in the second quarter, Stillwell continued to have the hot hand.
He went 5-of-7, including another touchdown strike to Cofer – this one from 11 yards – to make the score 12-0.
Laramie answered right back when Cody Suder took the ensuing kickoff 97-yards for a score. Steamboat went into the half leading 12-7.
A Ben Deline field goal pushed the lead to 15-7 in the third quarter, when the Sailors got the ball again on the Laramie 48-yard line. Going for the jugular, a Stillwell pass bounced off of a Sailor and into the arms of a Laramie player.
Laramie came back with an eight-play touchdown drive to put the score at 15-13.
With momentum swinging back toward the Plainsmen, Steamboat needed a big drive.
And who else to turn to than the Sailor gunslinger.
After Hanley ran the ball three times, Stillwell completed two consecutive passes including a 16-yard touchdown pass to Michael Stewart to put the Sailors up, 22-13.
“It was huge,” Finch said about the drive. “It was one of those things where you need to move the ball, and we had some new things open up. It was a perfect route – exactly how we drew it up. Tanner made the exact right read.”
Laramie made things interesting after scoring with less than a minute left. It recovered the ensuing on-side kick with 19 seconds left in the game. After a short completion, Laramie quarterback Carlos Casas dropped back for the final play of the game and was sacked by senior Lane Shipley.
It was a fitting end for a defense that gave up less than 160 yards total.
The game also gave the Sailors a look at a physical team like they will see Thursday at Palisade.
“It was nice to get two wins out of our preseason here,” Finch said. “Palisade is going to be a tough, physical team. I think this is a great test for Palisade, because they are going to be the biggest, most physical team we play.”
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