The Eaton offense lost two yards on its opening two plays in Saturday's 2A state opener against Aspen, the result of a botched formation and a fumbled exchange.
"It might have been pregame jitters," Reds tailback Austin Ekeler admitted. "I'm not sure, but we got past it and got to work."
Did they ever.
Ekeler hauled in a 28-yard pass from quarterback Britten Abbott on a crucial third-and-12 at the Eaton 29-yard line. Three plays later, the standout senior and 2,000-yard rusher shook free for a 24-yard touchdown run.
The second-seeded Reds (10-0) never looked back.
While it ran just seven more plays and had the ball for all of 2 minutes, 14 seconds the rest of the opening quarter, quick-strike Eaton erupted for 21 more points. It led by 42 at the break and rolled to a 56-0 victory over the No. 15 Skiers (6-4).
In three playoff meetings over the past six seasons, the Reds have outscored Aspen 134-27.
"It's pretty simple to say: We were overmatched," Aspen head coach Mike Sirko said. "I don't know if they had better personnel, but they were a better team than we saw last year. Oh my God, what a juggernaut."
Ekeler rushed for 218 yards and three touchdowns (one receiving) in a 48-20, playoff-opening rout of the Skiers last fall. He didn't stay in Saturday's game long enough to match those numbers. After compiling 145 yards and three touchdowns in the first 24 minutes, he spent the second half as a spectator.
"He was as good as advertised, maybe better," Sirko said of Ekeler, who is averaging more than 10 yards per carry to lead a Reds attack that has scored 50 or more in six of their past seven games. "He has such great balance.
"They got that third-and-long early in the game, and that really took the wind out of our sails. We could've made it a little bit more of a game, but we just made too many mistakes."
The first major miscue came on the Skiers' opening possession, when sophomore Luke Rider was intercepted by Eaton outside linebacker Trent Siegs, who rumbled 24 yards into Aspen territory before being dropped to the turf.
On the ensuing play, Ekeler burst through a gaping hole in the Skiers defense and rumbled 44 yards for the score. He then scored from five yards out with 1:40 remaining to cap a three-play, 56-yard drive.
The Reds offense was set up with another short field after Casey Edens picked off Rider. Abbott shook free this time, sprinting 14 yards to the end zone.
"They just gave us field position I don't know how many times off of fumbles and interceptions," Eaton head coach Bill Mondt said of Aspen, which fumbled the ball four times, losing three. "That's what makes the score go up so high. But Austin does that, too.
"Well, they didn't have much competition, but there were some things that we've been working on that they did better."
The onslaught continued in the second half. Abbott hooked up with receiver Nick Schreiber for a 16-yard score, then the quarterback broke a 43-yard run 7:40 before the half to extend the lead to 42. A running clock was instituted for the rest of the game.
The Skiers could muster just 60 yards of offense in the first 24 minutes.
"(Our defense) has been a little inconsistent throughout the season," Ekeler said. "I think they're starting to realize that it's the playoffs, and you have to come play like it's the fourth quarter - we're down the whole time. You can't let up just because you're up."
Added Sirko: "They were a very talented, big group - I think their tight end was a minuscule 6-foot-5 and 241 pounds. I told you that they were going to have to make some mistakes and we were going to have to play our best to beat them. It might've taken more than that."
Sieg caught a 37-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Matt Burkart in the third. Burkart finished the scoring with a 17-yard touchdown run in the fourth for the efficient Reds, who had just eight first downs in the game - one more than Aspen.
All told, Eaton rushed for 298 yards on just 28 carries, and Burkart and Abbott combined to complete five of six pass attempts for 102 yards.
The Skiers rushed for 40 yards and threw for only 43. Senior tailback Casey Hornburg, who returned to the field after missing four straight games with a knee injury, picked up just 12 yards on five carries.
"They're going to be really hard to beat," Sirko said. "That was a tough one, probably the worst I've had in my coaching career. We'll go back to the drawing board. And it's like I tell the kids: If we keep knocking at the door, maybe one day we'll break that sucker down."