Steamboat opens league play tonight

Montezuma-Cortez football coach Tom Adair asked the question several times and got several answers.

"How long is the road trip from Cortez to Steamboat?"

Adair went with the eight-hour response, but the Panthers split the trip into two days. Thursday, they left Southwest Colorado and spent the night in Grand Junction before arriving in Steamboat today.

The Panthers (0-3) and Sailors (3-0) open the Western Slope league season at 7 tonight at Gardner Field.

Adair planned to address his players regarding his behavioral expectations while the team travels from nearly the length of Colorado. It might be a distraction, but it is an unavoidable trip. Last season, the Sailors traveled to Cortez and won 35-6.

Adair wants his team to handle the trip as well as Steamboat did last year.

"We'd better play well against Steamboat," Adair said. "They are a good team."

While the Panthers did not win a league game last year and are off to an 0-3 start in 2003, Steamboat coach Mark Drake said Cortez looks imposing on film with its combination of size and speed.

The average weight of the Panthers' offensive and defensive lines is 245 pounds. The Sailors don't have one player who weighs 240 pounds.

"You don't know what to expect with a newer head coach," Drake said. "But good Lord they have size. Films are deceiving, but if they have the speed and the size, you hope they don't put it all together."

The Sailors may not have the size that strikes fear in the opposition, but every opposing coach has noted his defensive concerns regarding Steamboat's speed and its potentially lethal passing game.

"They do a lot of stuff," Adair said of Steamboat's offense. "They run the wing effectively and have a passing set that they are successful with. We can't get too concerned with one area and cover the pass and not the run."

Adair is in his second year as head coach with the Panthers, and Drake said it's tougher to gauge what a newer head coach will throw at his offense and defense because he has no set patterns and no trademark offenses and defenses.

The emergence of Steamboat's passing game, and Drake's insistence on throwing upward of 20 times a game, however, is uncharacteristic for the 30-year head coach, making it tougher for coaches to make a gameplan for the Sailors.

With the start of the league season, Drake has told his players to expect an increase in intensity and physicality. In Berthoud on Sept. 12, Steamboat was knocked around for the first time all season and managed to score just six points on offense. The special teams and defense scored the other two touchdowns in the 20-7 win.

"That ball game we won on guts and desire," Drake said.

Before last week's game, Drake prepared the Sailors for the moments this season when the offense wouldn't click and put up 50 points a game. Last Friday, the players didn't panic when they weren't able to run the ball effectively or move the chains with the pass against Berthoud's defense.

Instead, the defense stepped up and made big plays. The defense may have to play the same way tonight.

-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208

or e-mail mmawdsley@steamboatpilot.com

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