Bulldogs coach Kip Hafey knew the Sailors were capable of making big plays coming into Friday's homecoming game at Moffat County High School. What he didn't know was that they would make one of their biggest plays with 2.3 seconds left in the first half en route to defeating the Bulldogs, 21-9.
"The first play of the game, big play, right before half, big play," Hafey said. "Got them in a hole second half -- big play."
Steamboat Springs quarterback Tanner Stillwell threw a quick strike to running back Jace Bonner, who took it 48 yards for the score and the 14-6 lead against the Bulldogs.
"Our focus as a football team is always making the playoffs," Sailor coach Aaron Finch said. "You need to win league games to do that. It always feels good to win this one."
The third play of the game by Moffat County was an interception -- quarterback Andrew Drake was looking for tight end J.T. Haddan, but his pass found Steamboat linebacker Westin Cofer, who read the ball and ran 20 yards for the Sailors' first touchdown of the night. The play took eight seconds and put Moffat County on its heels.
"We played our hearts out," junior Travis Wilson said. "We came out there as a team, and did what we did as a team and the results were a team effort."
The Bulldogs caught a break when Cofer fumbled the ball on Steamboat's second drive and Blake Kawcak recovered. With 8:56 left on the clock, the Bulldogs took over at their 49-yard line but were unable to put a solid drive together.
"I think we played pretty good," senior Nick Navratil said.
The Sailors regained control at 8:05 and put on a 10-play, 23-yard drive that fizzled with two 5-yard penalties.
With 3:27 remaining on the clock in the first quarter, Moffat County took possession on its 4-yard line, but the Sailor defense put up a big stop and forced the Bulldogs to punt again.
"Offensively, we're still trying to find our identity," Finch said. "Tonight, it took us awhile to do that, but the guys stepped up."
Steamboat continued to dominate play in the first half. Beginning the second quarter on the Moffat County 31-yard line, the Sailors pushed to the 26, but a botched field goal attempt put the ball back in the Bulldogs' hands.
With 10:44 on the clock, the Bulldogs made a drive over the 50-yard line and into Sailor territory but were stopped short on a sack by Mac Marsh and Bonner. Drake and the Bulldogs lost 3 yards on the play and were forced to bring in the punting team.
The ensuing drive by the Sailors was similar, going seven plays, but Stillwell threw two incomplete passes and Steamboat's punting unit took the field.
Just when the Bulldogs were starting to build momentum in the quarter, J.T. Haddan fumbled the ball on second and six, putting the pigskin back into the hands of the Sailors.
On first and 10, Stillwell put up a pass intended for No. 80 Aaron Hornstein, but Drake came out of the backfield and pulled in the pass, returning it to the Bulldogs' 36-yard line.
The Bulldogs struck quick in the beginning of the third quarter, marching 19 yards down the field, and gaining 15 yards on a Steamboat penalty, to kick an 18-yard field goal.
The score put Moffat within five, but on the ensuing Sailors drive, another big play by Hanley put Steamboat deep into Bulldog territory. Three plays later, the Stillwell took the ball 7 yards for the score and the 21-9 lead.
A series of runs by Navratil set Moffat County up to score late in the quarter. Navratil picked up 45 yards in the 12-play drive, but an incomplete pass to Haddan stalled the Bulldogs on the 38-yard line.
"We get the ball, get a good return, kick a field goal, got the momentum, and we have them third and 17," Hafey said. "We got the call on them, watch the screen, and they ran a screen, and they ran it well."
With 11:54 left in the game, the Sailors used their running game to take time off the clock. "It's all about chewing up the clock," Stillwell said.
The series for the Sailors didn't pan out, and they were forced to punt.
With 3:51 to go, the Bulldogs took over on their 20-yard line, and at 3:36, a spark of hope erupted in the form of Navratil. A 37-yard gain by the senior put Moffat County into Steamboat territory. Driving to the Sailors' 25-yard line, the Bulldogs were called on a holding penalty and took two steps backwards. On third and 16, the Bulldogs had an open man downfield, but Alex Wood got a jump on the ball and came in for the interception. Stillwell took two knees to end the game.
Now, with a tough road to the playoffs, the Bulldogs will travel to Berthoud on Friday.
"We're in overdrive now that it's this time of the year," Hafey said. "Our work doesn't get any easier. This is a game that isn't a league game, but it could be the difference at the end of the year. It's critical."