Aspen prep football embraces lucky No. 7

Dale Strode
The Aspen Times
Aspen High School junior Ryan Fitzgerald will lead the Skiers' rushing attack in the first round of the state playoffs Saturday at Faith Christian High School in Arvada. Fitzgerald, the leading rusher in the Western League, has totaled 1,612 yards on 246 carries with 12 touchdowns.
Leigh Vogel/The Aspen Times |

Coach Mike Sirko and the Aspen Skiers are fond of the number 7.

Actually, the number they really like is 7, as in 7-in-a-row.

“Seven is a good number,” the Aspen High School head football coach said this week as he prepared the Skiers for their first-round state playoff game at noon Saturday at Faith Christian High School in Arvada.

“This group of kids is really excited about the playoffs, about Saturday,” the longtime coach said of the Skiers, who played their way into the postseason with three consecutive victories to close the regular season. “It’s awesome to get back to the playoffs … seven for seven isn’t bad.”

For the seventh consecutive season, a Sirko-coached Aspen High School football team qualified for the Class 2A playoffs.

“Football … shows that every game is important,” Sirko said. “We won three in a row to get back into the playoffs. I’m just really proud of these kids.”

Sirko, in his seventh season as the Aspen head coach, said the playoff appearance this season is particularly rewarding for the 30 players on the Skiers’ roster.

“These 30 kids battled and battled and battled. Some of them didn’t get in a game, but they hung in there,” Sirko said. “When you only have 30 guys, every guy is important.”

He said the Skiers sharpened their focus over the last month with key wins over Coal Ridge, Grand Valley and rival Basalt.

Rewarded with a playoff berth as the No. 3 finisher in the Western League, the Skiers (6-3) will take on No. 4 overall seed Faith Christian on Saturday.

The Skiers were given the No. 13 seed.

“It’s still a short trip for us,” Sirko said of the playoff opener in suburban Denver. Earlier, it appeared the Skiers might have to play at Manitou Springs or in the Weld County area against a powerhouse team from the Patriot League.

Sirko said the Skiers will make the relativelity short trip to Denver on Friday and take in a Class 5A state playoff game.

Then, on Saturday, it’s off to Faith Christian High School in Arvada to take on the 7-2 Eagles, who have won three state titles since 2004.

“They’ve got linemen who are huge — 250, 230, 200s,” Sirko said. “And their overall numbers are good.”

He said Faith Christian will use their size and depth.

“Usually it’s up in the line where the biggest discrepancy is (in team depth),” Sirko said. “But we’re going to go in there and battle. I know the kids want to perform them best.”

Faith Christian enters Saturday’s game coming off a strong finish to the regular season. The Eagles won their last three games by margins of 63-0, 56-0 and 43-3.

Led by veteran coach Blair Hubbard, in his 15th season, Faith Christian lost only twice this year — 42-16 to Class 3A Holy Family and 28-23 to Class 2A No. 7 seed Kent Denver.

The Aspen-Faith Christian winner will move ahead to a second-round game against the winner of No. 12 Fort Lupton (6-4) at No. 5 Gunnison (7-2). Gunnison secured the fifth overall seed after beating Olathe, 25-22, on Friday night to win the Western League championship.

“That didn’t really surprise me,” Sirko said of Gunnison’s league-clinching win over Olathe. “I feel like Gunnison had the best set of kids — two tailbacks, two quarterbacks. And they have 50 kids out.

“Our kids have learned how to play together as a team,” Sirko said of the Skiers and their late run into the playoffs. “They’ve learned to play with one heartbeat.”


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