Aspen falls to Faith Christian
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN – Aspen gave the state’s best team a stiff test Saturday.
That was of little consolation after the final whistle, however, as Skiers players and coaches tried in vain to choke back tears. Surrounded by vacant bleachers and fast-approaching late-afternoon shadows, one group of players lingered on the team logo at the 50-yard line.
“I’m going to cry like a baby when I walk off this field,” said red-eyed senior Nick Codd. “I don’t know if I’m going to be able to take these pads off.”
The ninth-seeded Skiers (9-3) scored on two of their first three possessions in Saturday’s 2A state playoffs quarterfinals and led top-seeded Faith Christian, 13-0, midway through the second quarter. The Eagles (12-0), who sputtered offensively at the onset, answered with 26 consecutive points – 12 on costly Aspen turnovers – and hung on for a 26-20 win.
“We played our hearts out,” Skiers head coach Mike Sirko said. “We proved we belonged today … They just didn’t make mistakes in the second half, and we did.”
Tailback Isaac Henry took a pitch and rumbled untouched for a 1-yard touchdown with 2 minutes, 45 seconds remaining in the third quarter, capping a seven-play Faith Christian drive that cut Aspen’s lead to 13-12. On the ensuing extra point attempt, holder Micah Twedell dropped the snap but alertly tracked down the ball and passed off to kicker Evan Marshall, who was left alone in the flat. Marshall jogged into the end zone, giving the Eagles their first lead.
In the opening minutes of the fourth, the Faith Christian defense came up with a game-changing turnover. On a first-and-20, Skiers quarterback Anderson Cole rolled right, reversed course and tried to set up a screen to tailback Nicky Ufkes; Eagles senior Ty Wilson intercepted the pass and sprinted 33 yards the opposite way for the score, stretching the advantage to 20-13.
“I didn’t see him,” Cole admitted. “I could feel a little pressure coming, and I felt like I had to get rid of the ball.”
“They did a great job. They sat on [the route],” Sirko added. “We kept saying it was wide open. They don’t do it right for six plays, then they do make the play when we finally made the call. … I wish we could take back a few things.”
Ufkes, the state’s leading rusher, shook free for 40 of his game-high 153 yards on the ground to open the following drive. Aspen sputtered from there, picking up just 7 yards on its next three plays – all runs. On fourth-and-3, Cole’s pass down the middle sailed a few feet over the outstretched hands of receiver Andrew Papenfus.
Faith Christian made the Skiers pay, utilizing a host of different tailbacks to string together an eight-play drive that chewed up 66 yards and more than three minutes. Senior Richard Rush bulled his way into the end zone from 2 yards out to give the Eagles a 13-point cushion with 4:43 remaining in the game.
“They did a good job of containing us at the beginning,” Faith Christian quarterback Twedell said. “Then we started to focus on our assignments … and make some corrections.”
Cole hooked up with tight end Matt Holmes for a 20-yard touchdown that pulled Aspen to within 26-20 with 12 seconds to play. Cole completed 10 of 17 passes for 110 yards.
The Skiers failed to recover the ensuing on-side kick attempt, and Twedell took a knee to run out the clock.
“We’ve been in the close games before, and that helped today,” said Faith Christian coach Blair Hubbard, whose squad overcame a 10-point deficit to top Platte Valley in overtime earlier this season. “The kids didn’t hit the panic button. … We told them to keep their confidence and keep their heads, no matter how Aspen came out.”
The Skiers marched right down the field on the game’s first possession. On third-and-goal from the 18 – the 12th play of the drive – Cole lobbed a perfect fade that Papenfus chased down in the back corner of the end zone. Aspen converted the extra point to jump out to a 7-0 lead with 6:48 on the clock.
Later, after the Eagles squandered a prime scoring chance in the red zone with a missed field goal midway through the second, the Skiers were on the move again. After fullback Daniel Ryerson rushed for 5 yards on the opening play of the ensuing drive, Ufkes found some rare running room. The junior, who rushed for 2,506 yards this season, burst through the hole, shed a tackler and bounced outside for 69 yards. One play later, on first-and-goal at the Faith Christian 6, Cole punched the ball in on a keeper, giving Aspen a 13-point advantage.
“We knew we could hang with them and knew it was going to be a war,” Codd said. “You could hear a roar on the sidelines. That was the best I’ve ever felt.”
“It was a perfect start,” Sirko added. “They hit them in the mouth and played hard. … They proved they could have won the football game.”
The Skiers defense forced two turnovers and a three-and-out on Faith Christian’s four first-half possessions. The Eagles, who came in averaging 40 points per game, finally broke through with two minutes left in the half. Rush capped a nine-play, 56-yard drive with a 3-yard scoring dive, trimming his team’s deficit to 13-6 at the break.
The Eagles turned the ball over on downs on the first possession of the second half, but scored on two of their next three possessions to all but clinch a victory and a berth in the semifinals. They will host Brush next weekend.
“Coming in, we knew they were a great team,” Twedell said. “I told their players they should all be proud of what they did.”
After one of the most successful seasons in program history was cut short, Aspen is left wiping away tears and wondering what could have been.
“This is a hard one to take … but I’m just so proud of our kids, the community, our fans,” Sirko said. “There are always ups and downs, but we’re going to keep working hard.”
“I think this was definitely a great way for me to go out. The state championship would be better, of course,” Codd added. “We dug deep … and definitely surprised ourselves.”
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