First impressions are often misleading, or at least the Durango High School boys lacrosse team hopes so.
The Demons got their first look at a new Western Mountain Division rival Friday, losing 11-3 to Steamboat Springs at DHS Stadium.
"I felt like they played pretty hard," DHS head coach Jed Gilden said.
"They're a pretty good team, probably the best team we've played this year."
Playing with a number of JV players bumped up to varsity to compensate for injuries, DHS got early pressure against the Sailors but couldn't line up a clear shot. Then Steamboat settled in.
Tyler Samlowski charged around the left post unchallenged to score the first, and then Gus Worden exploited the Demons' Swiss-cheese zone seconds later by finding Jack Spady in front for a one-time finish.
DHS forwards gave their defense a brief respite when Demon midfielder Jamie Hards set up Dane Bier for a hard shot that clanged off the post, but it was back to business for the Sailors following the near miss.
Garret Ehrick scored off a Chase Grippa pass, and Brian Bertrand took advantage of another DHS defensive miscommunication by the post to sneak in and net Steamboat's fourth.
The Demons finally broke through in spectacular fashion, when Hards caught a Kendall Murphy pass by the left post and managed to squeeze his shot through a tight window while absorbing a hard hit from the Sailor defense.
"He's always good for at least one goal," Gilden said of Hards. "It's nice to have a player who is reliable like that."
Steamboat's Erik Owen answered with a highlight of his own, however, jumping, catching and shooting a high pass from Andrew White for an alley-oop goal.
Worden snagged a loose ball for a freebie wraparound to push the lead to 6-1 before the break.
The lax defensive play continued for the Demons in the second, conceding five consecutive scores in the blink of an eye.
Whether it was improved communication, less-motivated competition, superior conditioning, or a combination of all those factors, the Demons finally put the hammer down at 11-1.
Moving it effectively at the offensive end, DHS got a tally from Bier, who cut through the center of the defense and scored on a low, hard shot from 15 feet.
JV goalie Cory Kerns made a series of body stops in the DHS net to end the third, likely earning a few bumps and bruises for the effort.
"He probably played the best game of his life," Gilden said.
Murphy recorded the game's final goal, cutting in front of the left post - Steamboat Springs style - and beating the keeper low.
DHS defender Marshall Marona made a number of key snags and was a rare bright spot in the shaky defensive effort. The Demons' back three improved as the game went on, however, allowing no goals in the fourth quarter.
Unlike Durango's club-turned-varsity squad, Steamboat was already a member of the Colorado High Schools Activities Association, finishing 7-8 in the Foothill Conference in 2008 and just missing a playoff berth. Sailors' head coach Bob Hiester is glad his inexperienced team could switch to the new league, even though the Western Mountain Division winner will face the added hurdle of playing the No. 16 seed for a spot in the state tournament.
"This is going to become a very good conference," Heister said. "It's a much more level playing field. In the Front Range, we were playing teams like Fort Collins (Unified), who went to the state finals. There's some real mismatches in there.
"This is nice, to be playing teams that have some of the same situations we have," Heister said. "Little mountain towns that don't have competition up close, long bus rides and all that."
Steamboat moves to 6-0 in the new conference after the win.
"We've been playing very well," Heister said. "The kids have done a good job basically in all phases of the game. They're playing together pretty well. Good team stuff."
DHS hits the road to face Eagle Valley High School at 4 p.m. on Friday, and the Demons will try to enact some revenge on Steamboat's home turf at 11 a.m. Saturday.