PUEBLO - Prior to Saturday's semifinal game, the boys from Pueblo had always been bigger, meaner, tougher and just flat out more nasty than the Steamboat Springs High School football team. Save for the bigger part, all that changed on Saturday. Steamboat, who had seen its season end twice in the last four years in Pueblo, put together its best performance of the year. There was little Pueblo Central could do to contain Steamboat's offense, and, defensively, the Sailors were as downright stingy, nasty, mean and tough as any team the program has seen in Pueblo. The end result was a 35-7 shellacking and a berth in the 3A state championship game at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Legacy Stadium in Aurora against undefeated Valor Christian. "It's about time to [quit talking about our size] considering we have a line that was just outweighed by 50 pounds," Steamboat's all-everything senior Joe Dover said. "They only scored seven points on us."Actually, Joe, Pueblo's front line averaged 241 pounds, while Steamboat's tipped the scale at a sleek and sexy 187 pounds. But the Sailors actually did prove that size isn't everything. From the first possession - where Steamboat actually received the ball on the opening kickoff after winning the toss for the first time all year - the Sailors did whatever they wanted. Two plays in, Jack Spady caught a 43-yard touchdown pass from Austin Hinder for a 6-0 lead. And boy was that a sign of things to come. Sailors coach Aaron Finch played his hand early, showing that Steamboat was going to air the ball out against Pueblo Central. The Sailors threw the ball on nine of their first 13 plays from scrimmage and were able to find a niche no team had been able to find all year against the Wildcats. "We felt if we could take the ball first and score early that was our best chance," Finch said. "If they were able to get going early, get physical and score on us that was going to be a potentially long day for us."It wasn't. Offensively Steamboat quarterback Austin Hinder had one of his best days as a prep quarterback. The senior completed 19 of 28 passes for 329 yards and two touchdowns. Spady, who found himself in man coverage for the first time in nearly two months, caught a suave 12 balls for 211 yards to go with his opening touchdown. "Me and [Spady]? I've been throwing with him since second grade," said Hinder, who was coming off three straight games in which he struggled. "We're on the same page. I have so much confidence in him." But believe it or not, Steamboat did find itself down. Pueblo Central turned a Steamboat fumble into a 7-6 lead on its second drive of the game. With the ball on their own 39-yard line, the Wildcats used five plays before quarterback Max Lerille took it in from eight yards out to give Central the lead. But on the next Steamboat play from scrimmage, Dover - running out of the "Wildcat Formation" - took the ball 67 yards up the left sideline for a 14-7 Steamboat lead. "That's tough. That's why we're a good team," said Dover, who had three touchdowns, 111 yards rushing, 54 more receiving and caused a critical fumble on defense. "There are so many teams in 3A that aren't versatile like us. They only got one threat. That's why we're good. We can do anything and our defense will stop it. The Wildcats failed on fourth down their next possession, before Hinder found Dover from 18 yards out to give Steamboat a 20-7 lead at halftime. "Just way too many mistakes to play a good Steamboat football team like that," Central coach Dave Craddock said. "We preached all week don't give them extra possessions. You give a team like that extra possessions and they're going to make you pay."Still, just down 20-7 at halftime, Central felt like it was in the game. The Wildcats got the ball at half and had been in this position before. Central trailed Falcon 20-7 at halftime earlier this season, before rebounding to win 28-20. But that's when this Steamboat team defined itself. The Sailors defense forced the Wildcats to punt on their first possession of the second half. The punt sailed all the way to the Steamboat 4-yard line. The ensuing drive is what state championship-caliber teams are made of. The Sailors went 96 yards in nine plays that took just 2 minutes, 57 seconds off the clock, before Dover scored from 33 yards out for a 28-7 lead. "We go as hard as we can. Hell, we've been outsized all year," Steamboat middle linebacker Mitch Lekarczyk said. "If you go slow you're going to get your [butt] whipped. If you go fast you have a chance at winning. Just look at what we did."From there, it wasn't really a question of whether Steamboat would win, but just by how much. Steamboat's defense held Central to a turnover on downs and a fumble on the Wildcats' next two possessions, before Sailors senior Dylan Pivarnik capped the game off with an 11-yard scamper in the fourth quarter to make the score 35-7. The Steamboat defense forced an interception by Jack Verploeg in the end zone late in the fourth quarter, before winding the clock out. But again it was the Steamboat defense that helped steal the show. The Sailors limited the Wildcats to 288 yards of offense, including just 159 on the ground. Central running back Keanu Valdez came into the game with 1,738 yards and 21 touchdowns. Valdez got his yards on Saturday - rushing for 121 on 23 carries - but didn't score and could never break a long run. "I didn't expect it to go quite like that," Verploeg said. "But we prepared for what they were going to do all week. After the first series our defense got used to it."Steamboat now prepares for Valor Christian, a team that beat Mountain View 21-7 in the other side of the bracket. Valor, in only its second year of varsity football, is 13-0 and won the Metro League. The two teams share one common opponent in Glenwood Springs. Valor beat Glenwood 51-28 and Steamboat beat Glenwood 30-21. The Eagles are led by junior quarterback Brock Berglund who has thrown for 1,889 yards and 26 touchdowns and run for 794 yards and another 13 touchdowns."What I hear they are very talented football team," Finch said. "They're 13-0. They throw the ball really, really well and they run it really well. I know very little, but it's two 13-0 football teams going at it. It's fun to be there."
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