Led by its defense, Aspen football sinks Sailors in win, remains in playoff hunt
Once the Aspen High School defense woke up — random 4 p.m. kickoffs need some getting used to — the Skiers were able to dictate Saturday’s football game en route to a 22-7 victory over visiting Steamboat Springs on the AHS turf.
Last week against Montezuma-Cortez, it was the AHS defense that stood out late in a 40-28 win. And, after giving up an early score, it was this same group that took center stage against the Sailors and dominated the final three quarters.
“It really comes down to we started playing aggressive, and that’s the secret,” said AHS coach Travis Benson, who thought his team started “very lethargic” against Steamboat. “The defense is absolutely gaining steam. I’m proud of the effort and the hustle. Tackling can still be improved. We are still too high, but effort is absolutely there.”
The contest featured a pair of two-loss teams needing a win to realistically stay in the postseason chase with only two regular-season games remaining after this weekend. Early on it looked like Steamboat was going to be the team to gain the upper hand, with the Sailors leading 7-0 late in the first quarter following a 2-yard touchdown run by Steamboat standout Finn Russell.
That was about the last sound heard from the SSHS offense, which committed multiple turnovers and barely threatened after the first quarter. Before that quarter ended, AHS scored via a roughly 20-yard pass and catch from sophomore quarterback Nate Thomas to senior receiver Noah Akin. A failed two-point conversion kept it at 7-6 Steamboat after a quarter.
Aspen led 14-7 at halftime after Thomas found junior Brady Haisfield for a touchdown, and Thomas ran in the two-point conversion.
Despite all the opportunities awarded them by the defense, the Skiers’ offense couldn’t maintain enough momentum to continually capitalize and failed to pull away from the Sailors.
“A good one that we can still clean up a lot,” Benson said of Saturday’s game. “There was definitely some good. I obviously haven’t watched film yet, but kind of the theme is 10 guys on one page, and one guy on a different page. And when that one guy is on a different page, it causes some self-destruction. It’s getting that consistency and that discipline for everybody to be on the same page.”
The only other score came relatively early in the third quarter when Thomas connected with Akin from 19 yards out. The two also connected on the two-point conversion for the 22-7 lead. Neither team scored in the fourth quarter.
Steamboat dropped to 1-3 overall and is likely out of the playoff mix in this six-game regular season, especially considering it entered with one of the lowest RPI rankings in the 16-team Class 3A this spring. The Sailors still have Coal Ridge and Rifle remaining this season.
Aspen improved to 2-2 overall. After losses to Glenwood Springs (41-14) and Rifle (56-14) to open the spring, AHS has now won back-to-back games to climb into the postseason picture. The Skiers entered the week with the No. 7 RPI in 3A, based largely on having played one of the toughest schedules in the classification so far.
“Especially defensively. Special teams did some good things. And offensively we did do some good things,” Benson said of having taken another step forward this weekend. “It’s just trying to put it together and play four quarters of football. And I think the other side of it is the kids learning there are some times when you have to hit the accelerator.”
Should Aspen’s RPI (rating percentage index) — which is the main component that determines postseason seeding — remain in the top half of the league, a 3-3 record this spring might be enough to get into the playoffs.
That would mean going 1-1 over the final two weeks. With a tough but winnable game against Coal Ridge waiting in the April 23 finale, the Skiers first have to contend with rival Basalt this coming Friday night in Aspen.
The Longhorns (3-1) will likely fall from the No. 1 spot in 3A after a 21-14 loss to No. 3 Glenwood Springs (4-0) on Friday night.
“Basalt is a very good football team. They are well coached. They are aggressive,” Benson said, adding that “you never know” in rivalry games.
It’s almost time to ring in the new year and if your holiday schedule is shaping up to be as packed as mine, I wish you a well-deserved rest in 2024. In the meantime, it’s our chance to party, and party we shall.