Aspen High football holds its own Saturday in 20-8 loss at No. 1 Bayfield | AspenTimes.com

Aspen High football holds its own Saturday in 20-8 loss at No. 1 Bayfield

The Aspen High School football team lost the game but in many ways passed the test. Facing host Bayfield Saturday afternoon, the Skiers held serve before folding late in a 20-8 defeat to the defending 2A state champs.

"They had fight in them until the end," AHS coach Travis Benson told The Aspen Times. "Just can't tell you how proud I am of the kids for the desire and hunger to go out and play hard."

It was a program record 16th win in a row for the No. 1-ranked Wolverines (3-0). The victory also extended a school record with their 21st straight win at home.

But Saturday was arguably Bayfield's toughest test since edging Durango 20-13 in the fourth game of the 2017 season. Even during the Wolverines' run through the state playoffs a year ago, it was one blowout after another. They rolled over La Junta 34-7 in the championship game, and throttled Basalt 41-0 in the second round.

"I don't know what caused so many mistakes. It was partly because of (Aspen)," BHS coach Gary Heide told The Durango Herald. "They forced us into mistakes. I won't bring down our team at all. Give Aspen credit, they played tough, caused our mistakes and caused us to lose focus. They caused our concern. They came to play."

Saturday against the Skiers — who left Friday and spent the night prior in nearby Durango — Bayfield truly had to earn the win. In fact, Aspen had a surprising 8-7 lead at half and was in position to pull the upset.

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"It was a great atmosphere. There is the hunger there," Benson said of the locker room at the break. "Without a deep, deep bench, we got guys getting wore down a little bit. That's the hard part."

Bayfield scored fairly quickly in the contest when running back David Hawkins ran one in from 9 yards out to give BHS the 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter. The remainder of the half was a defensive grind for both sides, and it was the 'D' that kept the Skiers competitive.

"Spread teams are often known as kind of fluff teams, and I hope people recognize that our boys, when they switch to defense, they switch to a warrior attitude," Benson said.

Late in the first quarter, Aspen junior Nick Spicer made the play of the first half when he intercepted Bayfield quarterback Hayden Farmer and took it about 30 yards for the score. The successful 2-point conversion gave AHS the 8-7 lead, a score that held into the halftime break.

"That was a gargantuan effort by the defense," Benson said. "(Spicer) read the quarterback's eyes all the way and stepped in front of the ball and made a great play. The funny part is, he wears the No. 65 on his uniform, but I think people don't quite realize he is also a FOGO (face off) guy in lacrosse and has quick hands and quick feet."

Bayfield was able to move the ball against Aspen, but the Skiers had numerous fourth-down stops to keep the scoring low, including six empty red zone trips for the Wolverines. Unfortunately for AHS, the offense couldn't figure out the Bayfield defense, which is easily among the best in the state. BHS shut out eight of its 13 opponents in 2017, as well as San Juan (Utah) on Aug. 31 in its second game of 2018.

"We went against a buzz saw of a defense. There is no questioning that," Benson said. "They are one heck of a defense and we had our chances. We missed on some of those chances, but I'm super proud of the kids. They kept the fight alive and they kept after it."

Bayfield retook the lead with a 1-yard TD run by Alec Demko on its first possession of the second half. The score was 13-8 following a failed conversion attempt. After exchanging a few turnovers, the Wolverines tacked on one final score early in the fourth quarter, a 31-yard run by Hawkins to effectively put the game away. Hawkins finished with 247 rushing yards to go with two sacks on defense.

Aspen (1-1) will finally get a home game next week when it hosts Cedaredge on Friday night. It is the first of only three home games this season for the Skiers. The Class 1A Bruins are 1-1 after a 34-26 win over Steamboat Springs in the opener and a 41-27 loss at Buena Vista on Friday.

"We are going to go back to work and start grinding again," Benson said. "Every home game is special. We have our first home game, we got homecoming and we got senior night. There is no 'off' home game."

acolbert@aspentimes.com