It doesn't matter where. It doesn't matter when. This game is always big.
The Moffat County versus Steamboat Springs football games are always for bragging rights for the rest of the school year. But the game also tends to have more ramifications than letting the winner chant the football score during basketball games in the winter.
"This game means a lot for both teams," Moffat County coach Kip Hafey said. "It's a little earlier than in the past, but there are playoff ramifications Friday. It's just as big as any game I've coached against Steamboat."
The Yampa Valley rivals meet at 7 p.m. today in Craig. The past four years, the away team has won the game. In only one of those years did the game's loser go to the playoffs.
"This game is important for positioning in the playoff hunt," Steamboat Springs coach Aaron Finch said. "At this point in our schedule, we want to win these games."
The Sailors and Bulldogs have similar records at 3-1 for Steamboat and 2-1 for Moffat County. But the roads to those records are quite different.
Steamboat has close victories against Class 5A Aurora Central, Class 4A Arvada and defending Class 3A state champion Rifle. The Sailors' lone loss came to top-ranked Palisade, 29-0.
The Bulldogs' two victories were against Battle Mountain and Rawlins, Wyo. The Huskies have yet to win a Western Slope League game since entering the league last year and Rawlins would be Class 2A in Colorado. The loss came last week against Eagle Valley, which lost to Rifle, 7-6, the previous week.
"We still have Rifle and Palisade in front of us," Hafey said. "Eagle Valley is a good team, but Steamboat has been tested more than us."
The statistics show that each offense gains yards in opposite ways. Bulldog quarterback Derek Duran has thrown for 598 yards and eight touchdowns in three games. Steamboat sophomore Jay Hanley has rushed for 498 yards and three touchdowns in four games. The Bulldogs have three receivers who have more yards in receptions than the Sailors have in total passing. Hanley's 498 yards are more than the Bulldogs' total rushing yards.
But the coaches said those numbers don't mean much.
"Moffat can still run the ball when they want to because they always have good athletes," Finch said. "I expect them to be pretty balanced."
Hafey's thoughts were similar.
"Both teams can be balanced if they need to be," he said.
The mental approach to the game is different for the teams. Steamboat is trying to build off its 14-12 win against Rifle, in which the defense came up with key play after key play in the second half.
"Our line has done the job on both sides," Finch said. "They have opened the seams for our backs and stopped things on defense. Our guys have the confidence to play well late in the game."
The Bulldogs are hoping to rebound after the frustrating loss to Eagle Valley.
"We lost the game against Eagle Valley because we weren't mentally prepared," Hafey said. "The kids know that wasn't the real team that showed up."
The other thing that never fails is that the Steamboat/Moffat game is a physical contest.
"There's no doubt that it will be physical," Hafey said. "We have to keep that trust with one another."