Olathe sacks Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Olathe sacks Aspen

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Jim Ryan/Special to The Aspen TimesSkiers quarterback Tucker Beirne is dropped for a loss during Friday's game against Olathe at Aspen High School.

ASPEN – The Aspen football team was riding high early in Friday’s Western Slope showdown against Olathe.

By night’s end, however, the Skiers were left out in the cold. It remains to be seen whether they’ll be left out of the playoffs, too.

The reigning state champion Pirates erased a 14-0 deficit on a frigid evening at Aspen High, then put this battle between first-place squads away in the third quarter. The Skiers turned the ball over three times in a four-play stretch and could not recover, falling 40-21.

“Once we got up two touchdowns, maybe we were a little overconfident and too excited,” Aspen receiver Quinn Morehead said. “We couldn’t calm down. We started doing the wrong things and let it go.”

Added Skiers assistant coach Rueben Burbach: “Up 14-0, you have to be [excited]. We came out ready to play, and I thought we were rolling. Things just kind of snowballed after that.”

Aspen (6-3 overall, 4-2 2A W.S.), gunning for its first league title in nearly four decades, struck first on senior night, orchestrating a 51-yard, first-quarter drive that chewed up nearly 5 minutes. Tailback Casey Hornburg finished things off, bulling his way into the end zone from 1 yard out.

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On the ensuing Olathe drive, Morehead, who was not expected to play after sustaining a left shoulder injury last week, made an instant impact. He picked off an errant pass over the middle from Pirates quarterback Ben Kaylor, bounced outside and sprinted untouched up the far sideline for the score, stretching the lead to 14.

“We weren’t about to get down on ourselves when we got down big early like that,” Olathe running back Cole Grett said. “We just wanted to stay positive and keep looking ahead.”

The Pirates regrouped and, on the strength of determined running from Grett, wasted little time trimming their deficit. They marched 69 yards in just seven plays on the ensuing drive; Kaylor found a seam on second-and-goal from the 4 and dove across the goal line with 1:05 remaining in the first quarter.

Midway through the second, Olathe capitalized on the first of a host of self-inflicted Skiers wounds.

Taylor Carlson jumped a route and picked off Aspen quarterback Tucker Beirne, setting up the Pirates at their own 48 about 31⁄2 minutes before the break. One play later, Kaylor executed a timely option pitch to Grett, who blew past the defense on a 52-yard scoring scamper up the far sideline. Olathe tacked on an extra point, squaring the game.

“I thought we had it covered well, but the guys didn’t get in position to make a play,” Burbach said. “It’s frustrating. When you’re there, you’ve got to make things happen.

“That play took the wind out of our sails. It was unfortunate that it was so early.”

The Pirates capitalized on the momentum. They caught Aspen off guard on an onside kick moments later, recovering the ball at the Aspen 48. After another bruising drive helped them march deep into Skiers territory, Kaylor hit a wide-open Willy Corey in the flat for a 7-yard touchdown strike, giving Olathe a 20-14 halftime lead.

“We had our doubts at first,” said Grett, who had 177 yards rushing by halftime and 213 total. “We just wanted to come out and prove to the league that even with one loss in league that we weren’t going to quit. We wanted it.”

The Pirates proved that during a one-sided second half. They received plenty of help from Aspen, too.

Olathe extended the lead to 12 with 3:11 remaining in the third when Ronnie Mumm broke free for a 67-yard touchdown run.

The senior picked off Beirne on the first play of the next drive, setting up the Pirates at the Aspen 4. Corey burst through the middle for a touchdown soon after.

The rout was on.

“It slowly was going downhill,” said Morehead, “and we couldn’t get any momentum going.”

After another Beirne interception, Corey scored again from 2 yards out, putting Olathe ahead, 40-14.

Beirne misfired on 13 of 22 pass attempts, throwing for 156 yards and one touchdown – a 68-yard screen pass to Hornburg late in the fourth quarter.

Hornbrug finished with 70 yards rushing, while Morehead hauled in five catches for 78 yards to go along with two interceptions.

The Skiers now have lost to Coal Ridge and Olathe in back-to-back weeks in consecutive seasons.

“This is the same situation as last year, when we lost Nicky [Ufkes] but bounced back nicely in the final week [of the regular season],” Burbach said. “We’ve still got a

shot. … Hopefully we can build some momentum and go rolling into the second season.”

Not all was lost Friday. By virtue of Basalt’s win against Coal Ridge, Aspen now is alone in second place in the Slope. A victory over Roaring Fork at 7 p.m. Friday would assure the Skiers a playoff spot.

jmaletz@aspentimes.com