Sailors ready for 3A semis

Who better to get a handle on Saturday’s Steamboat Springs-Pueblo Central Class 3A high school football playoff game than a team that played them both this season?

The Sailors and Wildcats square off at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Pueblo’s Dutch Clark Stadium for the right to play in next Saturday’s 3A state championship game.

Delta coach Ben Johnson, whose team lost to both squads, including a 34-7 defeat to Pueblo Central last week, said the game features two different types of teams.

“Styles make matchups, so it’ll be very interesting,” Johnson said.

On the one hand, Pueblo Central prefers a ball-control offense. Having a running back like Keanu Valdez, who has rushed for more than 1,400 yards, aids that cause.

With University of California-bound quarterback Austin Hinder, Steamboat has a top-notch passer who’s thrown for 1,777 yards.

Although the Wildcats prefer the ground game, “They run the bootleg well,” Johnson noted, giving credence to their passing game. Pueblo Central quarterback Max Lerille has thrown for 1,021 yards and has a 60-percent completion rate.

Steamboat running back Joe Dover missed some time this season with a back injury but has been healthy of late and will force the Pueblo Central defense to protect against draws and traps.

“I think it could be a game of momentum and turnovers,” Johnson said.

Steamboat negotiated one big hurdle to open the Class 3A state playoffs two weeks ago, pulling out a 24-13 victory over Berthoud in the first round. That round had been a stumbling block for the Sailors in the previous two playoffs.

Not that Sailors coach Aaron Finch isn’t aware his squad faces a couple of major hurdles in the next two weekends if it is going to achieve its goal of playing for a state title.

“There’s four really good teams left,” Finch said.

All four state semifinalists are undefeated.

After defeating Palisade and Delta in the first two rounds, “I thought those were a couple of pretty good teams you beat,” Finch told Pueblo Central coach Dave Craddock when the two were exchanging game film Sunday.

Steamboat had to rally for a couple of its victories this season, including falling behind 7-0 to Windsor last Saturday. That, Finch said, is actually a good sign.

“A unique trait of this team is there’s never any panic,” he said.

Part of that can be attributed to experience. Five of the Sailors’ seniors are three-year starters.

Another thing working in Steamboat’s favor is a relative lack of injuries at this point in the season.

“This is the first time in the last four years I haven’t had key people hurt,” Finch said.

One thing is certain Saturday. Two teams are going to have to play very well in order to advance to next week’s state title game at Legacy Stadium in Aurora.

“The 3A state champ is going to knock off two undefeated teams,” Finch said.


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