A reason to celebrate

Bigger Trojans run into better Sailors in season opener

As far as Steamboat Springs football coach Aaron Finch is concerned, the Sailors are 5-0 -- even if Saturday's game was the season opener.

The Sailors won their final four games in 2004. On Saturday, they picked up where they left off, defeating Aurora Central, 27-16, in Aurora.

Many of the players who contributed to Steamboat's late-season surge last year are back, so to Finch, the boys are 5-0.

On paper, however, a Sailors loss Saturday wouldn't have come as a surprise.

With a high school enrollment of 2,216 students, according to the Colorado High School Activities Association, Class 5A Aurora Central is more than three times the size of Class 3A Steamboat Springs, which has an enrollment of 631.

The Trojans were three times as big as the Sailors at several positions Saturday, as well.

But Steamboat held a 13-8 lead through the first three quarters. Aurora Central quarterback Sean Cunningham hit speedy James Ray on a 59-yard scoring strike early in the fourth to give the Trojans a 16-13 lead, the team's first of the game.

The clouds that spent 15 minutes building to the northwest opened up after Aurora Central's score, sending both teams into the locker room for a 60-minute weather delay.

"I think that helped us a lot," Sailors senior lineman Zack Savage said about the weather delay.

The defense went in and changed some of its stunts, or blitzes, Savage said. Aurora Central did not score after the delay, and Steamboat sophomore Jay Hanley and senior Tanner Grimes tacked on two rushing touchdowns less than two minutes apart midway through the fourth quarter to give the Sailors a 27-16 victory.

"I told them it's not acceptable to leave here without a win," Finch said. "We needed to play with our intensity."

After opening the game with a safety and a quick touchdown on Hanley's 40-yard run, the Sailors' offense sputtered. Junior quarterback Tanner Stillwell never found a rhythm with the receiving core, which isn't surprising because it was the first game of the year.

But the Sailors' special teams and run defense proved to be more than ready for the 2005 season.

Steamboat held the much bigger and quicker Aurora Central backfield to an average of 2.5 yards a carry. The Sailors also won the field position game. Senior Jack Serhant and Hanley did a great job on kickoff returns, giving the special teams a boost.

Sophomore placekicker Ben DeLine, all 144 pounds of him, booted two touchbacks and a 43-yard field goal in Saturday's win. Junior Jace Bonner averaged 41.5 yards a punt.

"After they got ahead, we were mad," Savage said. "We were definitely the better team."

Other than the lack of a passing game, the one area that Steamboat will have to work on is pass defense. Aurora Central did all its damage in the air, scoring twice and gaining 230 of its 290 total yards. In Steamboat's defense, however, it's hard to contain receivers who stand 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-5.

After Cunningham completed his first five passes of the game, the Sailors tightened up in the third quarter, holding the Trojans to one catch for 18 yards. Grimes also picked off Cunningham twice, including once in the end zone.

"I'm pretty much the smallest guy on the team," 5-foot-7 Grimes said. "I know where they are throwing it."

In a must-pass situation, Aurora Central tacked on additional yardage at the end. Neither team played a clean game. The Sailors and Trojans accumulated more than 100 yards in penalties.

Finch was looking forward to breaking down the Sailors' game film against the Trojans, saying "we are going to learn so much from this first game."

Steamboat (1-0 overall) faces Arvada at noon Saturday at Gardner Field in its home opener. The Sailors are eyeing not only their second win of the season, but their sixth in a row.

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