BASALT - Basalt pulled off a dramatic, playoff-clinching victory over its longtime valley rivals last week.
Now, the Longhorns will take a crack at dethroning the defending 2A state champions.
By virtue of Friday's 7-3 victory over Aspen, Basalt secured both third place in the deep 2A Western and a state tournament berth for the second time in three seasons. Saturday, the 13th seeded Longhorns will head south to take on a perennial power in No. 4 Florence, which strung together another dominant regular season despite losing a sizable senior class.
"It looks like they're really well coached, don't make mistakes, and defensively, they do a great job with gap control," Basalt head coach Carl Frerichs said. "It's definitely going to be a tough test, but our defense gives us a chance."
That defense is allowing just 17 points per game and helped spearhead a late-season surge in which the Longhorns (6-3) won five of six. On a night when both offenses struggled, the unit almost single-handedly secured a win over the Skiers, grounding the Aspen air attack and producing a goal-line stand in the waning moments of the fourth quarter.
Frerichs acknowledges, however, that the Huskies' option attack provides a much different challenge. Florence (8-1), which has only lost to top-seeded Kent Denver, is averaging nearly 289 yards rushing and 35 points per contest. It boasts three players - Johnnie Krien, Zach Hoxie and Scott Sandavol - with more than 650 yards on the ground.
Junior Krien has led the way with 1,210 yards, including eight 100-yard games, as well as 19 touchdowns and a per-carry average of more than eight yards.
"Their quarterback, fullback and tailback are all solid football players," Frerichs said. "We've had our ups and downs (against the option). We played well against Paonia and struggled against Bayfield.
"I really think it's all about disciplined football. The kids have to know who's responsible for the dive and the pitch. If you do your job, you'll do fine, but that's why so many teams run the option: High school kids have a tendency to veer away from what their job is, which leads to big-play opportunities."
Big plays effectively derailed Basalt's upset bid in the 2010 playoffs, when it led defending state champion and fifth-seeded Faith Christian at halftime. The Eagles regrouped, however, erupting for five touchdowns - three on passes of 30 or more yards from quarterback Alex Buchmann - and rolled, 40-21.
"We had Faith Christian on the ropes, then we had a big play called back and they had a few huge pass plays for touchdowns," Frerichs said. "It's like I told the kids: 'There isn't that much difference is size, skills and strength between high school teams. But stopping the big play is everything.'"
If it is to contend Saturday, Basalt will need production from its zone-read offense, which has been inconsistent, producing an average of just 16 points per game.
More important, Frerichs said, is mitigating the mistakes that resulted in losses to Roaring Fork, Bayfield and Grand Valley and nearly cost the Longhorns against Aspen.
"We broke down all nine drives we had against Aspen and every one we screwed up was because of a bad snap, a bad hand-off or a penalty. It just killed us," Frerichs said. "Those things are going to have to go our way."
The coach likes his team's chances. He hopes his players are on board.
"The biggest concern is just believing. If the kids believe, we'll give Florence a heck of a game. If not, ... we won't have a shot," Frerichs said. "We have one returning starter from that Faith Christian game, Jonny Medrano, who's our leader and our heart and soul. I know he believes, and he's carrying the other guys along with him. He's getting another opportunity, and he's unbelievably excited."