Football league up in air

The league football title is Moffat County's to win, but three other teams, including Steamboat Springs, have a legitimate shot to steal the championship, as the Western Slope season draws to a close over the next three weekends.

Moffat County is 3-0 with three league games remaining, but Steamboat, Palisade and Rifle are all one game back as the four take turns playing each other to round out the schedule and the final standings. The results of the next few games will determine automatic playoff spots.

Undefeated in the league and alone on top, the Bulldogs control how they finish. Their defense has few weaknesses, and their offense is built on strength and ball control.

Rifle was ready to beat Moffat County in Craig two weeks ago, but the Bulldogs refused to lose -- a trait that gave Rifle superiority in the league for the past five years -- and rallied to win in the second half.

"We're happy with where we're at, but we know we have tough teams left to play," Moffat County coach Kip Hafey said. "We definitely can't stay where we're at."

Moffat County (6-1) wraps up the regular season against last-place Cortez on Friday in Cortez, against Steamboat on Oct. 24 in Craig and against Palisade on Oct. 31 in Craig.

Earlier this year, Moffat County defeated Rifle at home, as well. Coaches in the league say the Bulldogs' favorable schedule and previous defeat of the Bears makes them the favorite to win the league title.

"I think it's anybody's game," Hafey responded. "Anyone can win it."

Rifle and Palisade already have played two games against the top four in the Western Slope league, and both went 1-1. Palisade beat Steamboat but lost to Rifle. Rifle beat Palisade but lost to Moffat County. This weekend, Rifle and Steamboat take center stage in the league race with their 7 p.m. game Friday at Gardner Field.

If Steamboat wins, it still is in position to win the league. If Rifle wins, it will need either Steamboat or Palisade to upend Moffat County. The loser of Friday's game, however, will have two league loses and may need the wild card to get into the playoffs.

"I thought the league would end up where the better teams would knock each other off," Glenwood Springs coach Craig Denney said. The Demons are 0-3 against Palisade, Steamboat and Moffat County.

Glenwood closes with Rifle, and Denney said his team always plays Rifle tough.

No one is surprised that Rifle, Palisade and Moffat County are in the race for the league title, but some coaches have expressed surprise that Steamboat is 6-1 overall based on the number of inexperienced players the Sailors started in September.

Take away some sloppy ball control in the game against Palisade, and Steamboat probably is tied with Moffat County in the standings and the only undefeated team left overall.

All the Sailors can control now, however, is how they finish on the field.

"You don't want to walk off the field with regrets," Steamboat coach Mark Drake said. "We've addressed that with the seniors, especially those who thought their senior season would never come, and then you have three weeks remaining and that's all you have left, and you want to make the best of it."

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