Pagosa Springs QB could cause problems for Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Pagosa Springs QB could cause problems for Aspen

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Pagosa Springs SUN Pagosa Springs senior quarterback Taylor Shaffer delivers a pass during Sept. 4's game against Alamosa at Pagosa Springs High School.

The first time Taylor Shaffer sauntered onto the practice field, Pagosa Springs football coach Sean O’Donnell said he saw something special.

Four years later, the rest of the state is taking notice, too. Shaffer, a two-year starter and 2A’s passing yards leader, has guided the Pirates to seven wins and a Mountain league title. Now, he and eighth-seeded Pagosa Springs will host No. 9 Aspen (8-2) at 1 p.m. in Saturday’s state playoff opener.

“Being the guy in charge, he does a nice job of getting the ball to open guys,” O’Donnell said Wednesday. “Obviously it’s going to be [more comfortable as a coach having him out there]. Just the experience there, the poise. He’s a good competitor who has been around athletics his whole life.”

Shaffer, the son of Pagosa Springs’ athletic director and basketball coach, garnered his first start midway through the 2007 season. He sustained a season-ending knee injury on his first series under center.

Firmly entrenched as the starter last year, Shaffer worked through some early struggles to lead the Pirates to the state quarterfinals and within a few plays of an upset of then top-ranked Platte Canyon. Pagosa Springs led the Huskies, 26-22, midway through the fourth until a special teams gaffe (the punter thought coaches called for a fake, took off running after the snap and did not make it past the first-down marker) led to a late Platte Canyon touchdown.

“When you throw the ball as much as we do, it’s hard to give the kids real-time experience in practice, so I think he misread defenses a few times … and threw some interceptions at the wrong times,” O’Donnell said. “He really matured throughout the year and as the season wore on, he got better and better and was a key factor in our success.

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“He spent a lot of hours this summer with a football in his hands, and it has really worked out for him.”

And the Pirates. Shaffer spearheaded a spread offense that averaged nearly 42 points per game during the regular season. He has thrown for 2,392 yards – the fourth-highest total in all classifications – and 22 touchdowns while completing 67 percent of his passes.

How impressive are those numbers? The Mountain’s second-leading passer, Buena Vista’s Cody Troudt, has thrown for 755 yards and six touchdowns.

Shaffer threw two or more touchdowns in eight of 10 games and did not toss an interception until the team’s eighth game. He has been picked off just three times.

Shaffer has thrown for 200 or more yards in all but one game – Sept. 25 against Monte Vista. All he did in that contest was throw for 152, rush for 133 yards on five carries and account for two touchdowns in a 56-37 victory.

Shaffer has rushed for 404 yards.

“If a play breaks down, he goes and makes something happen,” O’Donnell said.

O’Donnell is not the only one who has taken note of Shaffer’s maturation and shrewd decision making.

Aspen head coach Mike Sirko has won a state title and has witnessed the exploits of many accomplished players during his more than three decades roaming the sidelines. After viewing tape of Shaffer and the Pirates, he came away impressed.

The Skiers’ defense, a unit that has allowed no points in its last two games, faces a major test, Sirko said.

“I think he commands a lot of respect. He’s a good one and is ahead of the curve,” the coach said of Shaffer. “He does a nice job with the people he has. Three or four receivers can catch the ball, as well as a couple in the backfield. We’ll have to play the whole field … and get pressure on him.

“They’re going to catch the football. It’ll come down to making tackles and keeping them from getting the big play. Normally, if you do those kinds of things you can stay in the ball game.”

Ball control, an issue that plagued Aspen in its last two postseason appearances, will also be critical, Sirko added. Last season in Florence, the Skiers mustered just 34 yards of offense in a first half in which they turned the ball over three times and went three-and-out twice in five first-half possessions.

The Skiers punted on four of their last five first-half possessions in Eaton in 2007. Trailing 17-7 with 2 minutes, 14 seconds remaining in the half, Aspen failed to run out the clock after three straight runs yielded just 5 yards. After a

47-yard punt return, Reds quarterback Seth Lobato connected with tailback Henry Nira on a 9-yard strike to blow the game open.

“As long as we have the ball, [Shaffer] can’t do anything with it,” Sirko joked. “We hope to grind some drives out, and get them out of their game plan. We put up a lot of points like they have.

“We have our hands full, but we’re excited about the opportunity. We’ll see how the kids respond.”

jmaletz@aspentimes.com