Glenwood football rallies back, scores late to knock off top-ranked Longhorns, 21-14

Glenwood Springs High School’s Blake Nieslanik runs the ball during the game at Basalt High School on Friday, April 9, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Sometimes, to grind out a win, a team has to be a bit stubborn and stick to its principles. That was the approach for coach Pat Engle and the Glenwood Springs High School football team, which rallied late to upset top-ranked Basalt on Friday night, winning 21-14 on the BHS field.

“We knew we just had to keep pounding it and keep pounding it and keep pounding it,” Engle said. “Eventually it worked for us. We just had faith in each other. Just hearing the kids on the sidelines, our senior leaders … this is about the kids. The kids did this.”

Playing for the first time in nearly a decade, it was a matchup of two of the top three ranked teams in the spring’s new one-off Class 3A season, with the West league title essentially on the line, if not the overall seed in the fast-approaching state playoffs.

It was also senior night and homecoming for the Longhorns, who hosted one of the better crowds the Roaring Fork Valley has seen at any sort of event since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. And, for most of that contest, the Longhorns seemed to have the edge, until the No. 3-ranked Demons found a way to wear them down at the end.

Basalt seniors and best friends Riley Dolan, left, and Alonso Silva take a selfie after the student section threw purple-dyed cornstarch into the air during halftime of the homecoming football game against Glenwood Springs at Basalt High School on Friday, April 9, 2021. Both Dolan and Silva were on Homecoming Court. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

“They made some big plays and we missed out on some of those big plays. But I think it was a lot of fun for the kids. The atmosphere was awesome,” BHS coach Carl Frerichs said. “I felt offensively and defensively we were on our heels a lot of the game. So even though we were ahead on the scoreboard, I didn’t feel great about the way we were playing, to be honest.”

Pretty, the game was not. The halftime score was only 7-0 in favor of Basalt, the lone touchdown being a roughly 60-yard interception return by senior Teegan Card on a tipped pass in the latter stages of the first quarter. The BHS defense wasn’t great, but it was opportunistic most of the game, getting a fourth-and-goal stop from its own 1-yard line and getting another interception in its own end zone to keep the Demons off the scoreboard in the first half.

“Defensively we made a lot of great plays and I was really proud of the kids,” Frerichs said. “But we were on the field way too much. Offensively, we just couldn’t get a rhythm going like we’ve had all season. It will be great to watch film and see our strong points and things we definitely need to look at and get better at.”

It didn’t take long for Glenwood to get the offense going after halftime. Junior standout Blake Nieslanik finally broke loose for a nearly 50-yard touchdown run to make it a 7-7 ball game not even midway through the third quarter.

Basalt High School senior and captain Jose Castorena hypes up the team before the game against Glenwood Springs in their home stadium on Friday, April 9, 2021. This game was both senior night and the homecoming game. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Either team likely could have pulled away on Friday, but costly mistakes plagued both squads. A key play came not long after Glenwood’s tying touchdown when a muffed punt gave BHS great field position, and a few plays later quarterback Matty Gillis scored on a 1-yard keeper to give the Longhorns the lead back at 14-7 late in the third.

But Glenwood controlled the fourth quarter. A touchdown pass by freshman quarterback Joaquin Sandoval tied the game at 14-all with just over five minutes to play, and BHS couldn’t take advantage of its following possession.

A heavy dose of Glenwood senior Garrett Dollahan on the final drive led to a 1-yard TD run by Dollahan with only 11 seconds remaining that effectively ended the game.

Basalt High School’s wide receiver and captain Rulbe Alvarado avoids a tackle by Glenwood Springs’ Stephen Morris while running the ball during the first half of the homecoming game on Friday, April 9, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

“When you get two pretty proud programs with some tradition, some familiarity, you end up with what you got right there, which was a heavyweight fight. It was a lot of fun to be a part of,” Engle said. “When you are from Glenwood, there is a tradition of playing really, really good defense. And our kids just enjoyed the challenge that is Basalt and they just played well.”

Talking to both coaches, there is strong belief the teams very well could meet again before the spring season is out. With only two weeks remaining in the six-game regular season, Glenwood (4-0) is in charge of the 3A West, although it will host Rifle next week in a game that could make the battle for the league title a free-for-all should the Demons lose.

Basalt (3-1) will certainly drop from its No. 1 spot in the poll, but shouldn’t fall far, especially after routing Rifle only last week. The Longhorns travel upvalley to rival Aspen next week; the Skiers host Steamboat Springs on Saturday.

Rifle (3-1) rolled to a 63-6 win over Salida (0-4) on Friday night.

“The road to the state championship runs through Basalt and Rifle,” Engle said despite Friday’s win over the Longhorns. “It’s not the first game that is going to matter, it’s the second time that we play. There is no question that for us to continue doing what we want to do, we will likely see Basalt again. A tremendous amount of respect from our locker room to theirs. That was a heck of a football game.”