Full Steam ahead: Hinder, Steamboat try to capture second state football title

Quarterback Austin Hinder will be leading the Steamboat Springs Sailors football team against Valor Christian during the state championship game on Saturday.

Mesa State College football coach Joe Ramunno has been a part of some special football teams.

As a player, he was the senior captain for the University of Wyoming in 1984. As a coach, he led Palisade High School to four state championships in the 1990s and Mesa State to Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference titles in 2000 and 2003.

Ramunno even was a member of the 1985 Chicago Bears’ Super Bowl team.

But for all those accomplishments, one team still holds a special place in Ramunno’s heart.

He played offensive and defensive line on the 1979 Steamboat Springs High School football team that won the Class 2A state championship.

“It was my senior year, and it was a cool deal,” Ramunno said. “We had an amazing group with guys like Tommy Southall and Fred Latimer, who were phenomenal.”

The Sailors beat Buena Vista 12-0 for the state title that year, and Ramunno still recalls the support from the community.

“It was awesome,” Ramunno said. “Those smaller communities will pack every game.”

Thirty years later, Steamboat Springs (13-0) has a chance to do it again. The Sailors play Valor Christian at 2:30 p.m. today at Legacy Stadium in Aurora for the Class 3A state title.

“You need so many things to go well to get to this point,” Steamboat Springs coach Aaron Finch said. “But I think we knew it was an opportunity that this team should focus on at the beginning of the year.”

For Steamboat, this team has been one of great expectations.

Led by senior quarterback Austin Hinder, the Sailors have been tested, but have won the close games and done the little things to get to the final game. Hinder, who has verbally committed to the University of California-Berkeley, has lived up to the hype this season, throwing for 2,114 yards and 25 touchdowns with only four interceptions.

Hinder hasn’t done it alone, though. He has several weapons around him, including running back Joe Dover and wide receiver Jack Spady.

Dover has rushed for 1,400 yards and 22 touchdowns and Spady has 61 catches for 1,078 yards. Steamboat’s defense has been just as tough in the postseason, allowing only 27 points in three games.

“We play our best football when we are relaxed,” Finch said. “The team is prepared and has been focused week to week.”

Steamboat will be playing a Valor Christian team in only its second year of football. The Eagles (13-0) are similar to Steamboat in that they can put points on the board, averaging 39 points per game in the playoffs.

“They are a very good football team,” Finch said. “It’ll be an interesting matchup because we’ve had to deal with more power teams in the playoffs. Here we are going speed against speed.”

With Glenwood Springs facing Valor Christian in the second round and Steamboat’s opponent last week, Pueblo Central, playing both Palisade and Delta in the playoffs, Finch said he’s gotten good help from the other coaches in the league.

“We compete hard against each other, but everyone’s in a hurry to help,” Finch said. “I’ve had long conversations with both Coach (Ben) Johnson and Coach (John) Arledge. I think in the same way we were rooting for Glenwood last year, it’s been the same for us.”

Not only does Finch expect to have the league opponents on his side, but also expects a good draw of Steamboat fans to be in the stands.

“In Pueblo they said there were six to eight thousand people there, but it was amazing how many people were wearing red,” Finch said. “I think this week it will be only more, and we are home, so we get the big side of the stadium.”

After Glenwood Springs’ title last year, if Steamboat wins today, it will be the first time the Western Slope Conference has won back-to-back titles since Palisade (2003) and Rifle (2004) won championships.


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