Longhorns hang on against Skiers on gridiron | AspenTimes.com

Longhorns hang on against Skiers on gridiron

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

BASALT – The rivalry is alive and well.

So is the Basalt football team.

Carl Frerichs insisted this week that his squad was no underdog in Friday’s home game against upvalley foe Aspen. His Longhorns went out and proved it.

Now, they’re heading back to the postseason.

Behind an early touchdown from tailback Bertilio Garcia and a late goal-line stand, Basalt prevailed, 7-3, on a night when both offenses were as cold as the frigid late-October air. In doing so, the Longhorns notched their first win over the Skiers since 2006 and secured the 2A Western’s third automatic playoff qualifying spot.

“I’ve been in the program for four years, and every year it seems like we’re getting closer and closer to beating them,” Garcia said. “In the locker room before the game, we decided it was done.”

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To pull this one off, Basalt had to lean on its defense late.

Trailing 7-3 with about seven minutes remaining in the fourth, the Aspen offense took the ball at the Basalt 33-yard line and appeared primed to produce the go-ahead score. Buoyed by an costly personal-foul call on the Longhorns’ Tucker Jenkins, the Skiers quickly marched inside the 10. They turned to tailback Dan Schwartz on first and second downs, picking up six yards. On third-and-4, quarterback Luke Rider rolled out and looked downfield before tucking the ball and diving to the 3.

Aspen (6-3 overall, 4-3 conference) called a timeout with 3 minutes 59 seconds remaining.

“I couldn’t watch. I turned around and was praying,” Garcia said. “It was amazing to see how composed our defense played.”

The Skiers went to Schwartz once more. The senior, who finished with 161 yards on 31 bruising carries, bulled his way up the middle and was promptly met by no fewer than four Basalt defenders. He fought for extra yardage before being dragged to the frost-covered turf.

The Skiers could’ve secured a first down if they had reached the half-yard line. They came up mere inches short.

“Basalt football is all about defense. We believe in defense and spend a lot of time on it,” Frerichs said. “We have fighters out there who want to tackle and want to play. … They play for each other. You could see it there on fourth down – they were not bending, not quitting.”

Garcia all but sealed a win two plays later, taking a handoff in the end zone and bursting up the near sideline for 53 big yards.

“The Martinez brothers are key on that offensive line. I saw one of them opening up a hole, and I took advantage of it,” said Garcia, who finished with 153 yards on 22 carries. “That whole sequence, I didn’t think we were going to get out of there. They were stopping us. That felt so amazing.”

Aspen got the ball back with little more than a minute left, but a desperation pass from Rider was intercepted near midfield to seal a Longhorns victory.

“It looks like the game was decided by that fourth down, but I don’t feel like it should have come down to that,” Skiers assistant coach Reuben Burbach said. “There were a lot of other things that went wrong, but give Basalt all the credit. They played their hearts out and deserved this win. There’s no doubt about it.

“We were flat. In a big game like this, you have to come to play. No excuses. We didn’t, and Basalt did.”

Schwartz shook free for a 29-yard run on the game’s first play, and then Rider followed with a 35-yard scamper. The Skiers stalled from there, however, settling for a 30-yard field goal from Erik Wehse.

They turned the ball over twice and went three-and-out twice on their next four possessions.

The Longhorns (6-3, 4-3) weren’t much better, but they did manage to score in the early stages of the second quarter. Garcia capped a four-play, 44-yard drive with a 22-yard counter, shedding three tackles on his way to the end zone.

It proved to be all Basalt would need.

Now, they’ll be headed to the playoffs for the second time in three seasons.

“This was stressful,” said Frerichs, whose team has won five of its last six games. “Coach Sirko is incredible. He’s been doing this for 30-plus years, and to come out and go toe-to-toe with them and come out on top, I couldn’t be prouder.”

Added Garcia: “We were David, and we beat Goliath. That’s how this feels.”

All hope was not lost for Aspen. The Skiers were 14th in the wild card standings entering Friday’s contest and could back in as the field’s 15th or 16th seed.

Brackets will be released Sunday.

jmaletz@aspentimes.com

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