Aspen High football rallies back to tame the Lions in opener behind Thomas, Lee

The Skiers trailed 21-7 early in the third quarter

Aspen High School football’s Porter Lee, right, celebrates a touchdown against Colorado Springs Christian on Friday, Aug. 27, 2021, on the AHS turf.
Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

The Lions looked as if they had found easy prey against the Skiers early on in the season opener. But the Aspen High School football team eventually found their edge and skied away to a 42-21 win over visiting Colorado Springs Christian Friday night on the AHS turf.

“We finally woke up and it’s good to see. I give my hats off. That’s a tough football team,” AHS coach Travis Benson said. “We just found some consistency. I think there is a little bit of that belief, and momentum is a big player in football.”

Aspen trailed 21-7 to CSCS early in the third quarter and didn’t seem capable of putting it all together. But a nearly 60-yard touchdown pass and catch from junior quarterback Nate Thomas to do-it-all senior Porter Lee midway through the third ignited a 35-0 spurt to finish the game and allowed the Skiers to roll to what on paper may look like an easy win.

However, there was nothing easy about the first half, when Aspen couldn’t get much going. The Lions led 7-0 after a bad snap on an AHS punt attempt was scooped up for a score late in the first quarter, but the Skiers tied it later in the second when Lee threw a pass to Aiden Flynn to make it 7-all.

A short TD run with about two minutes to play in the second quarter made it 13-7 CSCS at halftime, and a 33-yard pass and catch set up by an AHS fumble early in the third made it 21-7 in favor of the Lions.

Soon after, Thomas and Lee took over the game. Both players shared time at quarterback, with Lee also proving to be one of the team’s best receiving targets and seemed to have some good chemistry with Thomas when Thomas was taking the snaps.

“They each bring their own special skill set to the game,” Benson said of his quarterback duo. “Any time you can have two leaders like that out there, it’s a phenomenal situation. They are fun to watch and what’s the best part is watching them support each other. That’s what this game is actually about, that brotherhood and supporting each other.”

Gallery caption: Photos: Aspen football vs Colorado Springs Christian

Still down 21-14 midway through the third quarter, Aspen took the lead on a short pass and catch from Thomas to Judd Gurtman that was followed by a successful two-point conversion. The 22-21 advantage held going into the fourth quarter.

The Skiers rolled from there, with Thomas connecting with Lee from 43 yards out to make it 29-21 with just over 11 minutes to play, and then Thomas found Brady Haisfield for another short TD pass and catch to make it 36-21. Thomas and Lee connected one final time, this one from about 50 yards out, with less than four minutes remaining for the final score.

“I’m proud of our kids. They battled through some adversity and I think we are slowly figuring out what we are,” Benson said. “It’s always learning and trying to figure out how we can become a better football team all the way around. These kids get a little bit of a break with outdoor ed and get to bond with some of their peers in school and then get back to work and try to get one step better every day.”

Aspen (1-0) won’t play next week because of experiential education. The Skiers will return to the field Sept. 10 with a non-league game at Class 3A Summit. The Tigers lost their opener on Friday night, falling 27-0 to 2A No. 6 Delta.

Elsewhere in the Class 2A Western Slope League on Friday, No. 5 Basalt took care of Woodland Park, 35-6, and defending spring state champion Rifle — preseason No. 2 in 2A — suffered a surprising 35-3 loss to Class 3A No. 8 Palisade.