Western Slope face-off | SteamboatToday.com

Western Slope face-off

League foes Steamboat, Palisade to play

— Now the real fun starts for the Steamboat Springs football team.

After playing two non-league games against Kent Denver and Laramie, the Sailors (2-0, 0-0 in the Western Slope) collide with league foe Palisade (2-0, 0-0) today at 7 p.m. at Stocker Stadium in Grand Junction.

“We’ve had a good feel in practice this week,” Steamboat coach Aaron Finch said. “I think we were a little in awe of them last year, and I don’t sense that this year.”

The Sailors have been impressive, showing a balanced offense and a swarming defense in their two wins. Against Kent Denver, the Sailors racked up more than 190 yards rushing. Against Laramie, Steamboat threw the ball for more than 200 yards. It’s that balanced attack that has Finch thinking his team might come away from Palisade with a win.

“It will be a big challenge to beat them there,” Finch said. “I think if we’re healthy, we can do some good stuff against them.”

For Palisade it will be more of the same. With an offense based on running the ball, the Bulldogs know that teams know what’s coming, but they think teams can’t stop it.

“In some respects this will be one of the bricks to a league championship for either team,” Palisade defensive line coach Dave Carlo said. “We’re a strong, grind-it-out kind of team. There’s no mystery what you’ll get with us.”

The Sailors are ranked No. 2 by the Rocky Mountain News. The Bulldogs are ranked fourth.

Both of Palisade’s two wins have come against Class 4A teams. Despite the wins, the Bulldogs have struggled hanging onto the ball. They have a combined 14 fumbles in two games.

“It wasn’t as crisp as we would have liked,” Carlo said. “We had some turnover issues.

“We’re just going through some of those growing pains in terms of young backs.”

Finch knows a well-coached team like Palisade probably won’t have that many turnovers starting tonight.

“I hope they haven’t fixed it, but it looked like more things they caused,” he said. “I think if you can get a big turnover ratio in your favor against Palisade that’s something you have to jump on.”

Carlos said the strength of Palisade lies in its lines. Palisade returns three starting offensive linemen and two starting defensive linemen.

“They’re a classic Palisade football team,” Finch said. “They’re real big up front, and they fire off the ball really hard. : They typically aren’t the fastest team in the league, but they make up for it in sure toughness and sure strength.”

Finch said he’s a little concerned with the way Palisade runs the ball. Typically a strength for the Sailors, Palisade was able to run the ball successfully against Steamboat last year.

“Last year, they were the one team that we had trouble stopping,” he said.

With a matchup of two top-five teams in Class 3A, Finch said it should be interesting to see what comes of two teams with high expectations for the season.

“It’s high school football, that’s what’s great about it,” he said. “This will be fun to see what the character of this game will become.”

– To reach Luke Graham, call 871-4229 or e-mail lgraham@steamboatpilot.com

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