Devils downed by Sailors in quarterfinals
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – Mistakes, mud and a ship of Sailors drowned the Devils’ hopes of advancing to the football state semifinals Saturday.In a game laden with turnovers by both teams, Steamboat Springs used superior running to beat Eagle Valley, 14-6.”Steamboat did what they had to do and came at us,” said Eagle Valley coach John Ramunno. “Everyone said Steamboat’s running back Jay Hanley was going to be the difference in the game, and it turned out he was. He’s a hard-running kid, and we didn’t do a good job of tackling him.”Hanley rumbled through the Devils’ defense for most of the game, racking up 163 yards on 23 carries, one of which went for a touchdown.Eagle Valley’s offense had trouble moving the ball and collected fewer total yards than Steamboat’s Hanley.”We have an offense that should be able to go straight up the field,” Ramunno said, dismissing the water-logged and frozen field as an excuse. “We didn’t stay with our blocks, and we put ourselves in a hole on first down.”
On several first downs, the Devils were flagged for penalties, fumbled the ball or were tackled in the backfield for a loss.In the first half, the Sailors’ offense didn’t fare much better, fumbling the ball six times, three of which the Devils recovered.”At halftime, I told the guys, ‘We should be done now, but (because of the fumbles) we are not, so we still have more work,'” Steamboat Springs coach Aaron Finch said.After grabbing a 7-0 lead less than a minute into the game, the Sailors’ defense stifled the potent Devils’ offense that had scored an average of almost 35 points a game.”What helped us win was our ability to run the ball and our ability to stop Eagle Valley,” Finch said.Costly turnoversOn the Devils’ second play from scrimmage, they fumbled the ball, setting up the Sailors with the ball inside the Devils’ 20.”Turnovers hurt us,” Ramunno said. “We fumble, then they get the ball and score.”After a long run by Hanley, Steamboat Springs quarterback Tanner Stillwell called his own number, bringing the ball in for a lead the Sailors wouldn’t relinquish.
For the rest of the first half, Steamboat’s Hanley eluded Eagle Valley defenders and broke tackles.”We knew he was getting the ball a lot; we just didn’t tackle well today,” Ramunno said. “Hanley’s a good runner on this kind of field. A couple times, we had guys jumping to get him or bouncing off his legs.”The Eagle Valley defensive line had trouble penetrating Steamboat’s backfield, and the Steamboat ball carrier would often gain three yards before meeting a potential tackler.Maurice Mitchell had key tackles for the Devils all game, including a touchdown-saving tackle on Hanley in the second quarter.”Maurice was tackling hard,” Ramunno said. “He and Kylan Kottenstette played really well on defense.”Eagle Valley’s defense gave up a few big runs but stopped the Sailors on key drives.”It was like the last time we played Steamboat when we gave up the ball a lot in our own territory and our defense played tough,” Mitchell said. “But we weren’t tough enough this time.”Steamboat scored its second touchdown a few plays after the Sailors’ Thomas Allen grabbed an interception deep in the Eagle Valley zone late in the third quarter.Slip and slide
The heavier Steamboat defensive line wreaked havoc in the Eagle Valley backfield. And it didn’t help the Devils’ offense that Eagle Valley running backs had problems dealing with the field.”We were trying to cut and dance, and that didn’t work on this field,” Ramunno said. “We couldn’t get the ball outside.”In the first half, the Devils had two first downs, one on a Michael Medsker keeper and the other on a pass to Tim Peters.After Steamboat scored its second touchdown late in the third quarter, Eagle Valley’s offense marched 60 yards down the field for a score.At the start of the drive, Sean Matheson broke out wide for a long run, giving the Devils much-needed momentum. Runs by Chris Harvey, Medsker and Mason Ewing gave the Devils a first-and-goal opportunity.On fourth-and-goal from the 2 yard line, Harvey broke through a slew of Sailors defenders for the score. The Devils came up inches short on the two-point conversion.As time expired in the third quarter, Medsker limped off the field with an injury and returned for a play in the fourth quarter only to leave the field on the next play.Alex Dorothy replaced Medsker, and looked sharp, completing several passes. Field of streams
The Steamboat Springs football field looked less like a field and more like an everglade. “Half the field was frozen, and half the field was sloshed,” Mitchell said. “I just couldn’t keep my feet for anything. It was horrible.”Lines weren’t present on 90 percent of the field, causing problems for the officials spotting the ball and players trying to find the sidelines.Two of the sideline yard markers were replaced with folded pieces of cardboard. And only feet from the field were mounds of snow that had been removed earlier in the week.”My back feels a lot better now,” Finch said. “I was out here all week shoveling.”Everyone had trouble moving laterally on the field.”I saw them slipping and falling, too,” Ramunno said of the Sailors. “Both teams a lot of turnovers and mistakes. That’s what happens in Colorado; you’ve got to be ready for it.”Fight to the finishWith five minutes left to play in the game, Steamboat Springs drove the ball deep into Eagle Valley territory. After a Steamboat first-and-goal from the 5 yard line, the Devils defense shut down the Sailors on three consecutive runs.
On fourth-and-goal, the Devils blocked a field goal attempt with 2:42 remaining in the game.”They finished hard,” Ramunno said. “We talked all year about their heart, and I thought they played hard all day.”Deep in their own zone, the Devils were unable to muster a drive, and Steamboat got the ball back. The Devils defense forced yet another fourth down, but the Sailors picked up a first down with seconds left to play.”That’s a great football team,” Finch said of Eagle Valley. “I have nothing but praises for the year they put together.”When teary-eyed Devils walked out of the locker room after the game, they were greeted by cheering Eagle Valley fans.”I had a great time with these kids,” Ramunno said. “The last two weeks were really special. They worked so hard. These are awesome kids, and they give you everything they’ve got.”At 10-2, the Devils walk away as the 3A Western Slope champions. For many Devils, the record was impressive but not the best part of the season.”I love all these guys to death,” Mitchell said of his teammates. “I’m never going to forget them.” Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14631, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado