The show must go on | AspenTimes.com

The show must go on

Jon MaletzAspen, CO Colorado

Freshman Nick Ufkes intercepts a pass Friday as the Skiers beat Coal Ridge, 54-14, to secure Aspen's first playoff berth since 1974. (Jordan Curet/The Aspen Times)

ASPEN Forget about leaving early. At Aspen’s final regular season football game on Friday night, you wanted to make sure you made it on time. The Skiers scored touchdowns on all six of their first-half possessions and added a 90-yard punt return for good measure. They built a four-touchdown lead over Coal Ridge after just 10 minutes, and led 47-0 at the half. In a game in which it had a lot to play for, Aspen acted like it, dismembering the Titans, 54-14. Three months ago, the Skiers were hoping to earn respect. Now, they’re talking about potentially hosting a playoff game after locking up second place in the 2A Western Slope and an automatic state berth – the team’s first since 1974. “We couldn’t even have imagined something like this,” senior tailback Tucker Eason said. “We took care of business in a big way.”

“They did an outstanding job, and I’m pleased with the way they bounced back,” said first-year head coach Mike Sirko. “I told the kids to start fast and put doubt in the other team’s minds. … It was a special night for us.”That fact became evident 90 seconds into the game when Aspen quarterback Anderson Cole found wide receiver Cory Parker on a screen pass for a 53-yard touchdown. After Aspen’s “black shirt” defense forced a Titans punt, the Skiers (7-2 overall, 6-1 conference) strung together a seven play, 3 1/2-minute drive that covered 72 yards – most of it on the ground. Eason bounced a run out to the right side on a second-and-1 from Coal Ridge 49-yard line and rumbled for 33 yards. Fullback Josh Gartner pounded his way up the middle for an 11-yard touchdown run – the first of his two in the first 24 minutes. Skiers freshman cornerback Nick Ufkes got into the action on the ensuing possession, when he picked off Crockett Williams’ pass at the Titans’ 40 and returned it 35 yards. Eason put Aspen ahead, 20-0, just 7 minutes, 40 seconds into the game, when he followed his blockers for the score. Junior Travis VanDomelen took an inside handoff and rushed 37 yards up the left sideline for a touchdown, then Gartner set up Aspen’s fifth score when he shook free on a quick handoff from Cole on Aspen’s fifth possession and shook free for 54 yards. He scored from two yards out on the ensuing play.

“I think our quarterback was on the field for five minutes,” Eason joked. “The offensive line played great. They came to work.”Eason patiently found a hole his line opened up on a sweep to the right with 9 minutes to play before the half and outran the defense for 58 yards up the right sideline. He added a 47-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter to stretch the lead to 54 – the Skiers’ highest point total this season – before he and the seniors left the field to a raucous ovation.While its defense was stout, forcing the Titans into four punts and two turnovers in the first half, the Skiers racked up 339 yards on offense – that didn’t include Ufkes’ 90-yard punt return late in the second to give Aspen the 47-point advantage. “We came out all week in practice and talked about playing with one heart, and we did,” Sirko said. “If you play hard, the scoreboard usually takes care of itself. These kids impress me every day.”The Skiers showed no ill effects of a humbling 41-12 loss last week in Gunnison in the de facto league title game. The Cowboys clinched the Western Slope title and an undefeated record earlier Friday with its 7-0 win over Olathe.

Gunnison’s win meant Aspen controlled its own destiny. The Skiers left little doubt, and their improbable run continues.They’re now headed to the show.”I was hoping for something like this, but I can’t say I would’ve guaranteed it,” Sirko said. “I’ve had some good moments in my career. This one’s right up there.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail is jmaletz@aspentimes.com

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