Aspen holds off Coal Ridge, sets up homecoming showdown with Basalt
NEW CASTLE — After a quick start, everything was headed downhill for the Aspen High School football team Friday at Coal Ridge in the Class 2A Western Slope League opener.
The Titans, playing in front of a packed homecoming crowd in New Castle, led 21-8 after three consecutive scores, including an interception return for a touchdown and a 75-yard TD run. Then, Aspen junior Noah Hollander returned a kickoff for a touchdown and the tide turned in a hurry.
“Absolutely huge. We try to preach to them that there are no bigger momentum changes than on special teams,” Aspen coach Karson Pike said of Hollander’s touchdown. “If we got guys out there giving great effort, we can change games in one play.”
That score stopped the bleeding and helped lead Aspen to a 34-28 win over Coal Ridge (3-2 overall, 0-1 WSL). The victory keeps the Skiers perfect at 5-0 on the season and gives them a significant leg up in the WSL race with defending league champion Basalt (3-1) up next. BHS plays Saturday at Steamboat Springs.
“We knew it was going to be a dogfight. We were saying the most focused team would win,” Aspen quarterback R.J. Peshek said of the win over Coal Ridge. “It came down to those last couple of minutes when we had to get that fourth-down stop. It was big. The boys rallied and we fought our hearts out tonight.”
Aspen led 8-0 off a fourth-down touchdown pass, but a series of miscues gave Coal Ridge the two-score lead before Hollander’s touchdown return. AHS retook the lead at 22-21 early in the second quarter on a short Peshek touchdown run, a score that held into the halftime break.
The Skiers extended their lead to 28-21 midway through the third quarter on another Peshek run, but Coal Ridge answered with a nice drive and touchdown pass from quarterback Oscar Salazar to running back Jacx Power.
Tied at 28, Aspen’s game-winning touchdown came with 3:03 to play in the third quarter. Peshek scored from 1 yard out after a pair of long passes set the Skiers up in the red zone.
The defense did just enough from there, including the game-clinching stop when Coal Ridge faced fourth-and-goal from the Aspen 2-yard line.
“Defense won us that game. The biggest thing we found out is we can stop teams that run right at us,” Pike said. “That’s good to see. Now we got to clean up some stuff, because we are going to get another team that runs the ball right at us.”
The win is big in many ways. It will likely give the Skiers a big boost in RPI, as Coal Ridge was No. 4 in 2A entering the game, while Aspen was No. 8. At 5-0, Aspen will get the chance to stake its claim in the WSL when Basalt visits town for homecoming.
“This hasn’t been done in quite a long time. It’s something special and to have it be my senior year, I couldn’t ask for anything else,” Peshek said of the 5-0 start. “It’s going to be another dogfight. It will come down to the little things next week.”
Fully aware he was in the midst of the mountain bike race of his life, Aspen’s John Gaston said he “tried to not think too far ahead” to prevent the magnitude of the moment from getting to him. He eventually finished runner-up in the iconic race.
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