A season on the brink for Aspen Skiers | AspenTimes.com

A season on the brink for Aspen Skiers

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Robin Smith/Special to The Aspen TimesThe Skiers' Quinn Morehead, left, and Daniel Schwartz celebrate after stopping Platte Valley on fourth down in the waning seconds of last Saturday's 2A playoff opener.

ASPEN – Rex Christensen knows the end is near. The Aspen quarterback senses the urgency.

It’s the reason he has trouble sleeping on the nights before games. The reason he implored a group of receivers to linger after practice Thursday, as darkness set in, to run a few more pass plays.

“It’s always in the back of my mind. This could be the last time I’m geared up for practice for Aspen, and probably my life,” he admits.

“There is anxiety, but I try to use that as motivation. … We’ve worked four years for this. We don’t want it to be over.”

The seventh-seeded Skiers narrowly escaped with a 21-14 win over No. 10 Platte Valley in last week’s 2A playoff opener. If it is to extend its season for at least one more week, Aspen (9-2) will need to bring its best in Saturday’s quarterfinals. Perennial power Kent Denver, the tournament’s second seed and last season’s state runner-up, visits Aspen High at noon.

The Sun Devils (9-2), who boast a balanced offensive attack and one of the state’s stingiest defenses, dispatched No. 15 Coal Ridge, 20-7, in the first round.

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“They’re a damn good program, one of the same faces [in the postseason every year],” Skiers head coach Mike Sirko said. “I’ve been coaching against [Scott Yates] since the ’80s. His kids are always well coached and always ready to play. … It’s going to be a battle at high noon at the O.K. Corral.”

Added senior Daniel Ryerson: “This is definitely a challenge we’re looking forward to. I’m ready to run however many times they give me the ball.”

Ryerson helped Aspen secure a spot in the quarterfinals for the second straight year with 160 yards rushing against Platte Valley. The Skiers squandered a 14-point lead, pulled ahead late and made a key defensive stand in the waning seconds; cornerback/wide receiver Quinn Morehead batted away a fourth-down pass from Broncos quarterback Adam Hange at the goal line.

Kent Denver had no such trouble against Coal Ridge, a squad that handed Aspen its first loss of the season on Oct. 27. Matt Florence rushed for 170 yards and Richard Yates threw for 143 on 12-of-20 passing to help the Devils jumped out to a 20-0 lead. (Florence has rushed for 1,255 yards and 15 touchdowns this season, while Yates has chipped in with 1,297 yards and 15 scores through the air.)

The Sun Devils defense held the Titans to just 168 yards of total offense – 61 coming on quarterback Robby Moore’s touchdown pass to Cameron Cotton on the opening play of the fourth quarter.

The score was the first Kent Denver had allowed since Sept. 25, a span of six games and 28 quarters. The Sun Devils have surrendered just 68 points in 11 games.

“I only watched one film … but their defense brings a lot of blitzes and stunts and comes at you,” Christensen said. “We’re going to have to come at them. … I’m confident they haven’t seen an offense like us.”

While the Sun Devils likely will see a lot of Ryerson, who rushed 37 times last week, expect Christensen to play a key role Saturday. A large portion of Thursday’s practice was devoted to perfecting short passing routes to wide receivers, tight ends and backs.

Christensen threw for just 70 yards and misfired on 10 of 15 pass attempts last week.

“I have a lot to prove to myself, to my friends, the school, the state,” the signal caller said. “The passing game is going to have to be a huge part of the game. I look forward to that. … The coaches have seen plenty of openings in their defense.”

Added Sirko: “What we’re trying to do is add a wrinkle or two, but the truth is we’re trying to get better at the things we do well. At this point, there are not a lot of surprises.

“I feel like they’re kind of a mirror image of us. They’re an [I-formation] team and play a 4-4 defense like us. … Both teams are solid. We know at this time there are no Sisters of the Poor left. We’re going to have to play really well. So are they.”

Assistant coach Lawrence Altman is banking on a strong performance. He has spent the last 10 Thanksgivings with family in Boca Raton, Fla., and would like to stay home this time around.

“No Boca for me this year,” the coach joked. “At least not for three more weeks.”

“If we win, he’s eating turkey with us,” Sirko laughingly chimed in.

Senior linebacker Daniel Munger and the Skiers would be happy to oblige.

“There’s a fire in the belly. We’re all pumped up and ready,” he said. “There’s a sense of pride. This is an opportunity to leave a legacy behind. To come back in 20 years and have people talking about the Skiers football team from 2010, that’s what I want. Today is a great opportunity.”

jmaletz@aspentimes.com