Aspen High football hosts Basalt for homecoming with league lead on line
Records and rankings rarely matter when the Aspen and Basalt High School football teams meet on the field.
But the way things stand as the two sides enter Friday’s contest on the AHS field, it’s impossible to ignore the implications the outcome will have.
“The funnest part about high school football is when there is a lot on the line,” AHS coach Karson Pike said this week after a practice. “It’s a rivalry game. It’s a homecoming game. You can’t write the script any better.”
And this script has two teams about to face off in their biggest matchup since 2012. That year, BHS beat Aspen, 7-3, in the regular-season finale to clinch a playoff spot. Since then, there has been little on the line outside of local bragging rights.
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This season, it’s all on the line.
“We just keep telling the kids this is one you’re always going to remember,” Basalt coach Carl Frerichs said. “Our kids do need to remember it’s just another game, but at the same time we have to be realistic in realizing how big the game is. We keep telling our kids if we want to control our own destiny, we need to win.”
Aspen is in the midst of a season to remember.
Without a winning record since going 6-4 in 2013 — the last season under coach Mike Sirko, who led the team to the playoffs all seven years at the helm — and coming off back-to-back 2-7 seasons, the Skiers currently sit at 5-0 overall.
“It definitely feels good being undefeated,” Aspen junior lineman Dillon Jonsson said. “I definitely knew we were going to be a lot better. We’ve been talking about this for a while.”
Aspen is ranked No. 10 in Class 2A this week and is No. 5 in RPI. The Skiers average 45.6 points per game (helped by 80 points in the season-opener), and senior quarterback R.J. Peshek leads the entire state (not just 2A) in total yards with 1,887 (1,345 passing and 542 rushing).
The turnaround in Pike’s second season isn’t going unnoticed.
“They really scheme well to what they have. I think they put their kids in the best position possible and they are really executing,” Frerichs said of Aspen. “They look sharp and to have so much importance on one game makes it a lot of fun.”
Basalt is coming off a 7-3 season in which it won a league championship for the first time in more than 30 years. Despite the loss of a handful of key players from 2016, the 4-1 Longhorns haven’t lost much of a beat this fall.
Since a 34-14 zero week loss at Class 3A powerhouse Rifle, BHS has won four in a row, including last week’s 48-0 win at Steamboat Springs in the Western Slope League opener. Aspen beat Coal Ridge, 34-28, last week in its league opener.
Even with the win, BHS dropped out of CHSAANow.com’s poll, being supplanted by Aspen at No. 10. Basalt’s RPI is No. 16; 16 teams make the 2A state playoffs. The easy route to the playoffs is through the automatic bid given to league champions.
And the winner of Friday’s game (7 p.m. kickoff) will have a serious leg up on that automatic playoff spot.
“You can’t put it into words. It’s Aspen week,” Basalt senior lineman Oswaldo Morales said. “Every single game we’ve learned something new and we got that ball rolling and we are not intending for it to stop.”
The storylines are aplenty outside of the league lead. Frerichs, in his 10th season as Basalt’s head coach, is 4-5 against Aspen. Three of those wins have come in the past three seasons, however, including last year’s 48-0 bashing of the Skiers in Basalt, Pike’s first go against his rival to the north.
As Pike noted, it is homecoming for Aspen, which is playing at home for the first time since its season opener Aug. 25 against Middle Park. AHS has played its past four games on the road, and had a bye week for experiential education. But with only 20 miles separating the schools, the Basalt players are hoping to bring a large contingent of fans to counter what is expected to be a raucous crowd.
“It doesn’t matter what their record is, you always know it’s going to be a great game. It’s going to be a tough game with a lot of smack talking,” said Basalt senior tight end and defensive standout Raul Torres. “We are going to have a bunch of fans over there. It’s going to be great. It’s going to be a really good game. Our energy is going to be really, really high.”
Also playing today are Coal Ridge (3-2, 0-1 WSL) and Moffat County (2-3, 1-0) in Craig. Should the Bulldogs fall at home, the Aspen-Basalt winner would have the outright WSL lead after two of five league games. Roaring Fork and Steamboat Springs play in the third WSL game today, with each team looking for its first win of the season.
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High school sports remain on hold until at least April 30, while a lost season is looking more and more likely