Football: Mistakes cost Aspen at home | AspenTimes.com

Football: Mistakes cost Aspen at home

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – Mere moments after the final buzzer sounded Friday night, the scoreboard at the Aspen High football field went dark.

Skiers players, coaches and fans are eager to put this game behind them as quickly as possible.

Aspen hung with high-powered Grand Valley for nearly three quarters Friday in a battle for second place in the 2A Western League. The Cardinals, ranked sixth in the latest Denver Post poll, turned two untimely Skiers turnovers into 14 points down the stretch, however – the last seven capping an 85-yard, fourth-quarter drive that effectively killed both the clock and Aspen’s chances of a comeback.

Grand Valley cruised to a 36-19 win to improve to 7-1 overall and 5-1 in conference play. The Skiers fell to 6-2 and 4-2 with one pivotal regular-season game remaining Friday at rival Basalt.

“We felt going into the game that we’d have to play perfect ball to win,” Aspen head coach Mike Sirko said. “They ended up playing perfect. We watched them on film, and they were good, but they really played well. Give their kids and coaches a lot of credit.

“Our kids played hard and inspired but just made too many mistakes.”

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The most crucial miscue came with about nine minutes remaining in the third quarter. Trailing by three but buoyed by a long kickoff return, the Skiers took over at the Cardinals 46-yard line. Quarterback Luke Rider fumbled on the drive’s first play, however, and Grand Valley’s Bryan Hegwood fell on the ball.

“That was huge,” Sirko admitted. “He basically just got stripped. What are you going to do?”

What the Cardinals did was drive 55 yards in just five plays on the ensuing possession. Quarterback Ty Scott capped things off with a quick strike to tight end Stephan Padilla, who stumbled as he ran up the middle but managed to dive across the goal line.

Grand Valley tacked on an extra point to extend its lead to 29-19.

Later in the quarter, with Aspen on the move again, Rider was picked off by towering cornerback Trent Reidle at the Cardinals 18.

Grand Valley could not make the Skiers pay, however, going three-and-out.

Such was not the case early in the fourth, however.

With starting kicker Erik Wehse watching from the sidelines in street clothes because of concussion-like symptoms, Aspen was forced to attempt a conversion on fourth-and-9 at the Cardinals 15. Rider rolled out and spotted receiver Eric Abrahamovich in the corner of the end zone, but his pass was well off line.

Grand Valley took over with 7:17 remaining in regulation. Utilizing a bruising running game, adept passing to convert one third down and a hard count on fourth-and-3 to force a Skiers player to jump into the neutral zone, the Cardinals methodically marched down the field.

On first-and-goal from the 5, Scott took the snap from the shotgun, tucked the ball securely and bulled his way up the middle, shedding tacklers en route to the end zone to put Grand Valley on top, 36-19, with 1:18 on the clock.

“They’re a big, physical club, and we hung right with them. We did that with some mighty mites that played hard,” Sirko said. “I’m proud of that, but we didn’t play well. That’s the thing that always costs you.”

Aspen forced three turnovers – two on interceptions by Luke O’Callaghan – and jumped out to a lead midway through the first quarter. Running back Daniel Schwartz burst through a hole, bounced outside and outsprinted the defense for a 44-yard score.

After Scott answered with a 3-yard keeper on the ensuing drive, the Skiers went back to work. Fueled by a 15-yard facemask penalty and some inspired running, Aspen covered 65 yards in seven plays – the last a Schwartz 5-yard scamper.

Andrew Hancock missed the extra point.

The Cardinals answered right back with a three-play drive capped by a 23-yard fade from Scott to Reidle for a touchdown that put the visitors ahead, 14-13.

Schwartz, who rushed for 188 yards on 22 carries, shook free and rumbled 35 yards for his third score on the first drive of the third quarter, giving the Skiers a 19-14 advantage. Their two-point conversion attempt failed, however, and things deteriorated from there.

“We played hard, we really did, but like coach said, you just can’t make mistakes,” Schwartz said. “We left it all on the field, but when you come up short, it doesn’t really matter. All you want is that ‘W.’

“We’ve got the opportunity to do something big. We have to send a message, come out and have the best week of practice in our lives and take it to Basalt. I know we can.”

With a win in the midvalley next week, the Skiers will secure third place and a postseason berth.

“We need to go back to the drawing board, and the kids need to have short-term memory,” Sirko said.

jmaletz@aspentimes.com