End of the road for Aspen football | AspenTimes.com

End of the road for Aspen football

Jon MaletzAspen, CO Colorado

CHAD SPANGLER/ gtphoto@greeleytribune.com

EATON, Colo. Just 15 yards stood between Aspen and a two-touchdown lead in Saturday’s 2A state playoff game.Four minutes after jumping out to a 7-0 lead at eighth-seeded Eaton, the No. 9 Skiers marched right back into the red zone, poised to double their advantage. Then came a false start. And another. Without the ball being snapped, Aspen’s fortunes had shifted. A manageable second-and-4 became a trying second-and-14.Two failed plays later, Brian Westerlind’s 38-yard field goal attempt wobbled wide right and came up well short.Eaton saw its opening and ran – and passed – with it. The Reds scored on their first two plays in the second quarter and added 10 more points before the half. They made Aspen’s first postseason trip since 1974 less than memorable with a 30-7 victory.”I guess we gave up a little,” Aspen senior Tucker Eason said. “That definitely was a momentum-killer, and they came back. They hit hard and kept pounding the ball on offense. We couldn’t keep up.””We underestimated everyone on their team,” senior Cory Parker said.Seth Lobato, the 6-foot-6 Eaton quarterback with an arm as big as his stature, made Aspen pay. The junior rolled out on a bootleg to open the second quarter and found Adam Geisick open down the right sideline; Geisick shook off a defender for the 32-yard touchdown.Four minutes later, Lobato hit wide receiver Cameron Stewart in stride on a slant, and Stewart outran the Aspen secondary for 72 yards and the score.After Kolten Jelden split the uprights from 35 yards, giving the Reds a 17-7 advantage, Aspen (7-3) took over with 2:14 before the half. Knowing they opened the second half with possession, the Skiers were seemingly content to run out the clock.The strategy didn’t work. Three consecutive running plays yielded five yards and left 40 seconds on the clock.Eaton called its final timeout. Lance Korell fielded Westerlind’s punt, found a crease and rumbled 47 yards to the Aspen 9. Two plays later, Lobato rolled out and found tailback Henry Nira in the left corner for the touchdown.”That was a loud statement right before the half,” Eaton coach Bill Mondt said. “We got a touchdown they didn’t expect. … They’re a good football team, and they’re used to winning, but we’ve been behind before.” The Aspen sideline was visibly dejected.”We caught them with their pants down early, but they’re mature and playoff-tested,” Aspen coach Mike Sirko said. “There’s a lot of tradition here, and we had to fight them on their home turf. That’s tough.”While Lobato and the Reds found their stride, the Skiers were grounded. Aspen punted on four of its last five first-half possessions and missed a field goal on the other. They had just three possessions in the second half, and amassed 49 yards of offense. The Reds were content to bleed the clock and batter Aspen’s front line with a variety of backs. After Korell picked off Cole Anderson’s pass with 4:06 to play in the third, the Reds strung together a 13-play, 59-yard drive that took up 6:43. Tailback Austin Diaz stretched the Eaton lead to 30-7 with a six-yard scamper up the middle. After a Skiers punt in the fourth, the Reds controlled the ball for the game’s final six minutes to seal the win.”They scored those points in the second [quarter], and it was tough to come back,” Eason said. “We’ve come so far, but I’m never going to wear the Aspen colors again. I’m never going to strap it up with these guys again. It hurts. I’m going to miss them again.” In the first quarter, it looked as though the only tears filling the Skiers’ eyes would be those of joy. If the Skiers were intimidated in their first postseason game in more than three decades, they sure didn’t show it. Aspen deflected Lobato’s first two passes on the opening drive, then dropped tailback Henry Nira in the backfield to force a three-and-out.The Skiers made their first possession count. Eason’s 39-yard draw up the left side and Travis VanDomelen’s seven-yard touchdown run capped a four-play, 48-yard drive that took just 45 seconds. Freshman corner Nicky Ufkes got the ball right back to the Aspen offense near midfield when he blocked Jelden’s field-goal attempt. Six plays later, the Skiers were staring down the goal line once more. But the mistakes piled up quickly.”We just got too comfortable with a seven-point lead,” Parker said. “We have a lot of young kids, and, when that happens, it impacts you a lot more than a team with experience. “We let it get to us.” While both players and coach agreed that Saturday’s loss stung, they tried their best to put the season in perspective. Aspen finished second in the 2A Western Slope, was among the top 10 for much of the year and finished unbeaten at home.The team has preached building success and tradition brick by brick. Everyone agreed that Saturday’s state appearance helped build one strong foundation.”We did stuff no one would’ve thought,” Parker said, fighting back tears. “[Today] isn’t easy, but we came so far.””I want to thank the people for their support all year,” Sirko added. “I can’t wait to get started [on next year]. Maybe we’ll wait until after Thanksgiving.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is jmaletz@aspentimes.com