Top-ranked Basalt, hopeful Aspen to kick off truly unique spring football season

Basalt High School quarterback Matty Gillis avoids a defender as the team hosts Rifle on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019, on the BHS field. The Longhorns won the Class 2A state quarterfinal game in double overtime, 21-14. (Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times)

Football returns to the Roaring Fork Valley this week.

No, this isn’t spring camp, but the start of “Season C” on the pandemic-altered schedule that includes both Aspen and Basalt high schools taking to the gridiron for the first time since November 2019.

“It’s definitely a different time of year,” Basalt coach Carl Frerichs said. “They’ve just been working their tails off getting ready for this. It’s probably the longest these kids have ever had in an offseason looking forward to a season. I can’t imagine after lifting for 16 months how excited these kids are to be able to play.”

Roughly 80% of the teams statewide opted to play this past fall in Season A, leaving the rest to play this spring in a one-of-a-kind season that required shaking up the leagues and even classifications to make it work. Season C also includes all of boys soccer and volleyball, normally fall sports that had the entirety of their seasons moved to this month.

Both Aspen and Basalt football will play in Class 3A this spring, up from Class 2A. Class 3A includes a total of 16 teams vying for the state championship, divided up into two leagues. The 3A West includes Aspen, Basalt, Rifle, Steamboat Springs, Glenwood Springs, Coal Ridge, Montezuma-Cortez and Salida.

The 3A East is made of Faith Christian, The Classical Academy, Kent Denver, Sand Creek, Littleton, Denver West, Northfield and The Academy.

Delta and Moffat County, who have been fellow 2A Western Slope League foes with Aspen and Basalt in recent years, played in the fall and won’t take part in Season C. Roaring Fork is playing in the 12-team Class 2A this spring.

“Our conference reminds me of the old conference from back in the day. It kind of gets back to those same teams that used to be in it,” said AHS coach Travis Benson, himself a 1995 graduate of the school. “You don’t go in with your full arsenal of offensive playbook or defensive scheme, but it is what it is. Everybody is in the same boat. It’s an equal playing field.”

Official Season C football practices started March 4, although full contact wasn’t permitted until March 10. Teams are only allowed a maximum of six regular-season games — down from the usual nine — with an eight-team postseason bracket expected. The 3A championship game is tentatively scheduled for May 15 in Pueblo.

Aspen and Glenwood to tango in rare contest

Aspen’s season opener will be Friday night at Glenwood Springs. The Skiers went 4-5 in Class 2A last season, while the Demons went 4-6 in Class 3A. Both teams missed the postseason in 2019.

Due to the size difference, the teams rarely ever play outside of scrimmages. It wasn’t immediately known when the last time the teams played; MaxPreps’ records go back to the 2004 season and the teams have not played since at least then.

Aspen football players celebrate a touchdown against Basalt on Friday, Nov. 1, 2019, on the AHS turf. Photo by Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times.

Benson, who is in his second stint as Aspen’s head coach, spent a handful of years as a Glenwood assistant and was part of Rocky Whitworth’s staff when they won the 2008 state championship. Pat Engle is the Demons’ current head coach.

“I was down there for eight years and Pat is a great coach,” Benson said. “He runs a little different system as far as a lot more power-running game, but we’ll see. It could be a whole new ball game for him as well, depending on the kids he has. But great tradition down there.”

Aspen enters the spring season ranked No. 5 in Class 3A, while Glenwood is ranked No. 6. What exactly AHS looks like and who is taking the snaps is still to be determined. The team is trying to replace star quarterback Tyler Ward, who decided to play for Calabasas High School near Los Angeles for his senior season.

“It’s going to be figuring out your own team a lot earlier without even a scrimmage under our belts and just going,” Benson said. “The best part is just seeing the kids be able to socially integrate again and play something they are passionate about. The excitement level is at an all-time high.”

Aspen Football Schedule Spring 2021

Friday at Glenwood Springs

March 26 at Rifle

April 2 vs Montezuma-Cortez

April 10 vs Steamboat Springs

April 16 vs Basalt

April 23 at Coal Ridge

All eyes on No. 1 Basalt entering season

Basalt will open its season Saturday afternoon at home against Salida. The Longhorns, state semifinalists from 2019, have the honor of opening the season ranked No. 1 in 3A, while rival Rifle is No. 2.

Third-ranked The Classical Academy and No. 4 Faith Christian are slotted just ahead of Aspen and Glenwood.

“It’s something the kids really should be proud of, but really it doesn’t mean anything until we start playing,” Frerichs said of the No. 1 ranking. “We have an opportunity to make a run at this, but right now, just week to week, I want the kids to be able to have the opportunity to play every game.”

Basalt finished 9-3 last season. BHS split against Rifle, beating the Bears in the state quarterfinals, while its other two losses came against Delta, including in that historic semifinal game. Delta lost to Sterling in the 2019 Class 2A state championship game.

Salida had a disappointing 1-8 campaign in fall 2019, a major step back from the 9-2 season it had a year earlier that included a playoff win over Aspen. Basalt last played Salida in 2017, a 28-22 playoff win for the Longhorns. BHS would lose a round later to Bayfield.

A big reason Basalt enters as the top-ranked team this spring is it brings back most of its skill position players, including senior quarterback Matty Gillis. The Longhorns are rebuilding some on the lines, but Frerichs likes the overall upside of the group.

“We definitely have some things on the offensive and defensive lines to figure out, but lots of potential with the kids who are filling those spots so far,” Frerichs said. “We have some kids that are going to be stepping up into bigger roles and even first-time starters that are ready to show what they’ve been working on.”

Basalt Football Schedule Spring 2021

Saturday vs. Salida

March 27 at Steamboat Springs

April 3 vs Rifle

April 10 vs Glenwood Springs

April 16 at Aspen

April 24 at Montezuma-Cortez

Policy regarding fan attendance is likely to change as local city and county rules evolve surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, but entering the first week only a limited and pre-approved amount of spectators will be allowed to attend games.