Records can be deceiving.
That is the lesson both Kip Hafey and Aaron Finch want their teams to understand going into the Yampa Valley football showdown tonight in Steamboat Springs.
"I would much rather be 3-0 going into the game," Finch, the Sailors' rookie head coach, said. "But it's Steamboat against Moffat, so records are thrown out the window."
If there were ever a case study on the importance -- or lack thereof -- in strength of schedule this meeting of rivals would be a good sample. The Sailors are 0-3 after facing a Class 4A school, and the two highest-ranked Class 3A schools, Palisade (first) and Rifle (second), in the state.
"We had no control over our schedule," Finch said. "It's been hard at times not to feel sorry for ourselves but we can't let that happen because we think to be a playoff team we need to beat one of the big three (Moffat County, Palisade, Rifle)."
The Bulldogs have outscored their three opponents 168-6 this season, but those teams haven't exactly proven themselves a worthy opponent. Rawlins, Wyo, Battle Mountain and Eagle Valley are a combined 2-8. The two wins they have earned came against schools that were smaller.
"We feel we can put up big numbers against anybody," Hafey said. "The kids know not to use the record as an indicator, because Steamboat is still a playoff-caliber team. But we still feel we're going to put up numbers until somebody proves otherwise."
The fast start for the Bulldogs has them ranked fourth in Class 3A by the Rocky Mountain News and sixth by the Denver Post. Moffat County's offense is in the top 10 in passing, receiving and rushing. Senior Kellan Moore is one of 3A's top rushers with 487 yards.
Finch said that a disadvantage of playing a team that hasn't been challenged is that the tapes of previous games do not reveal any weaknesses.
"I haven't seen too many cracks in their game," he said. "There was a quarter where they struggled a bit against Eagle Valley, but that's about it."
A crack for the Sailors has been stopping the running game. Rifle running back Rocky Rauman rushed for 265 yards and five touchdowns in the Bears' 35-7 win. Kyle Britton and Jason Popick combined for 328 yards on the ground when Palisade beat the Sailors 35-28.
Although other teams have found holes, the Sailors' 3-4 defense is something the Bulldogs haven't seen before.
"They send linebackers from a lot of different places," Hafey said. "Our offensive line has to pick those movements up."
Both teams will start at least one different offensive linemantonight.
Moffat County senior Chris Compton blew out his knee in the first quarter of the game against Eagle Valley. He is not expected to return all season.
The Sailors lost junior Zack Savage last week against Rifle.
During the last two seasons, the Sailors and Bulldogs have met in late October, when playoff and league standings were on the line. The Bulldogs earned a playoff birth in 2002 by defeating the Sailors, 14-13, in overtime. Last year, the Sailors proved they were the better team with a 22-12 win, and they went on to the state semifinals.
The playoff picture is far from developed today, but both teams will have a better idea after the final horn.
"It's an exciting game for us because it is the next step in what we want to do this year as a team," Hafey said. "One of our goals was to avenge the loss to Steamboat last year."
Finch recognized that this week wouldn't be any easier for his team than the other three weeks but it didn't change their preparation.
"We're still going to go out there and play the best football we can," he said.
"We've got a lot of seniors who have played against Moffat since middle school," he said. "So they're fired up."
The kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
David Pressgrove can be reached at 970-824-7031 ext. 211, or firstname.lastname@example.org.