ASPEN - Tucker Beirne aced his first test as an Aspen High School freshman.
The much-hyped young quarterback shook off some early nerves in Friday's season opener against 3A Delta, then delivered a performance worthy of all the advance billing. He threw for 188 yards and four touchdowns, completed 75 percent of his passes and led the new-look Skiers to a 35-12 rout of the Panthers.
"It was a nice effort for his first game," Aspen head coach Mike Sirko said. "I tell you what, this was a pleasant surprise, but we've still got a lot of work to do."
Beirne looked every bit like a 14-year-old in the early going - being confined to the locker room for an extra hour because of a lightning delay likely didn't help. The Skiers, ranked sixth in The Denver Post's preseason poll, failed to generate a first down on their first two possessions.
Things changed quickly after that, however, as Beirne helped orchestrate a six-play, 25-yard drive that included a fourth-down conversion and culminated with a 14-yard scoring strike to Daniel Schwartz, giving the Skiers an early seven-point advantage.
While Aspen's defense continually shut down Delta - dominating at the line of scrimmage and surrendering just 57 yards in eight Panthers possessions in the first 24 minutes, the Skiers continued to click on offense.
Beirne executed Aspen's pistol offense with poise and precision in the second quarter, as the Skiers picked up chunks of yardage both through the air and on the ground. Beirne helped stretch the lead to 14-3 about 6 minutes before halftime, when he fired a strike to wide receiver Quinn Morehead, who slipped on the turf but still managed to glove the ball at the goal line.
The duo hooked up six times for 82 yards in the game - including one memorable connection in the waning moments of the first half. With little more than a minute remaining, Beirne dropped back on a second and 7 from the Panthers' 42 and launched a tight spiral deep down the far sideline; Morehead sprinted past a Delta cornerback, hauled in the well-placed pass and trotted in for a score that gave Aspen a commanding 28-3 lead.
"There were a lot of new faces out there, but we talk a lot about playing with one heart," Sirko said. "We did that tonight."
All told, Beirne completed eight of 12 passes in the opening half. He misfired on just one of eight attempts in the second half and tacked on one more touchdown pass - a 10-yard strike to tight end Jake Nugent on the opening drive of the third quarter.
The Skiers were content to run out the clock from there. Casey Hornburg led the way on the ground, rushing for 80 yards and one touchdown on 26 attempts.
The Panthers, who were forced into three-and-outs on their first three possessions of the second half, finally gained some traction in the fourth quarter - albeit against Aspen's second stringers. Junior quarterback Mitchell Whiteside connected with wide receiver Taylor Smith for a 29-yard score with 3 minutes, 40 seconds remaining. Delta tacked on two more points courtesy of a Skiers safety in the waning moments, but could pull no closer.
Aspen hits the road for a non-conference game with Moffatt County next Friday.