Aspen football eyes upset over 2A’s top team
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN – Mike Sirko is not ready to take off the walking boot just yet.
Ever since a large television fell off a rolling stand and landed on his right foot, the Aspen football team has won four straight, the superstitious head coach points out. He’s not about to compromise that streak now, with a berth in the 2A state semifinals on the line.
The ninth-seeded Skiers (9-2) picked up their first postseason win since 1973 last week in Pagosa Springs. Saturday at 1 p.m. they will attempt to topple top-seeded Faith Christian (11-0), which has lost just four times since 2003 – all in the playoffs.
“I’m a little nervous and a little excited,” junior tailback Nicky Ufkes admitted during Thursday’s practice. “This is the biggest game I’ve ever been a part of, the biggest game I’ve ever heard of at Aspen High School.
“They’re a really good team and the odds are against us, but I’ve seen upsets before.”
It was during Ufkes’ freshman year that the Skiers pulled off an improbable three-point win over then fourth-ranked Olathe.
The task before his squad this time around is a daunting one, Sirko said Thursday.
“They’re a good football team. Them and Olathe, they’re the two teams in the state that are really a cut above,” the coach added. “It comes down to believing in ourselves. … I told the kids I have a lot of wins in my career and if they were all supposed to be wins, I’d have a lot less.”
If the Skiers are to advance, they will need to slow quarterback Micah Twedell and the Eagles offense – a group Sirko characterized as skilled, athletic and physical after this week’s film sessions. Faith Christian averages 40 points a game and scored more than 50 three times. It was rarely tested en route to a 2A Flatirons league championship.
Twedell has thrown for a league-leading 1,466 yards – the fourth-highest total in 2A – and 19 touchdowns. The senior completed 12 of 21 passes for 164 yards and one touchdown against No. 16 Bayfield last week. He was intercepted twice.
Twedell (521 yards) is one of three Eagles with 300 or more yards on the ground. Senior Derek LePore (651) has scored 11 touchdowns and is averaging 8.5 yards per carry.
“The kids at Faith are the real deal,” Sirko said. “Their offensive line is really good, but the strength of their team may be on defense.”
The Eagles defense, a unit that will be charged with stopping Ufkes, the state’s leading rusher, has surrendered just 57 points. No team has scored more than 16 against the unit, which has logged six shutouts.
If Thursday’s practice is any indication, the Skiers will open the playbook Saturday and not be content just to hand off to Ufkes, who has rushed for 2,353 yards. Last week, senior quarterback Anderson Cole threw just four times, while Ufkes carried the ball 36 times for 329 yards and four touchdowns.
“We’re going to have to be a little more balanced. That’s the key,” Sirko said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to do that and keep them off balance. I don’t know how we’re going to match up or what might work for us just yet … but we have to secure the football and move the football.
“It will be tough. They look darn good on film. … They have the program I’d like to get to. They’re used to this stuff. We’re getting more used to it, but this is a new level for us.”
Sirko has tried to maintain routine this week. That is proving difficult given the buzz being generated in the valley, he said.
“I had some people come up to me that I’ve never met and say, ‘Good luck this weekend,'” the coach said. “This is so exciting for the community and our kids. There’s nothing better than a home football game to get the juices flowing. … This is why we play this game.”
Friday, the Aspen football team headed into town to watch the new film “The Blind Side.” Today, the Skiers will look to manufacture a silver-screen worthy performance of their own in front of the home crowd.
“A lot of people are probably counting us out … that just lights our fire,” Ufkes said. “We have a chance to prove them wrong, and prove anything is possible.”
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