Aspen football hosts Basalt on Friday night with the season on the line
There won’t be any strangers on the field Friday night, and that’s how rivalry games are meant to be. These are kids who have been playing against or alongside one another for most of their lives, and for the seniors it’s a final chance to get the best of their valley counterparts.
“Probably to the kids more than anyone it means the most, just because they know who is under the helmet,” Basalt High School football coach Carl Frerichs said. “They know who they are going against, and I know for both schools there is a lot of pride in that game.”
Basalt (6-2) will close out the regular season Friday with a 7 p.m. game at Aspen High School (4-4). The playoff implications loom large for both teams, as does Basalt’s current five-game win streak in the series. The Skiers haven’t beaten their rivals since a 21-10 win in Aspen during the 2013 season, the last under coach Mike Sirko.
The current senior class would have been in the sixth grade then, and it’s a losing streak AHS would certainly like to end.
“In the back of our mind, we know it. But we know it’s a different year this year. It’s a new year and we are ready to take those steps forward to win the game,” Aspen senior Max Ufkes said. “For me, I’d do anything to win this game. This is obviously a well-known rivalry and that’s exactly what it’s going to be on Friday. We are going to come out and we are going to do our job.”
PLAYOFFS COME EARLY
Chances are Aspen doesn’t make the postseason without a win over Basalt. The Skiers are No. 16 this week in RPI (Rating Percentage Index), the magic number that will decide playoff seeding. Only 16 teams make the Class 2A football bracket, so AHS doesn’t have any room for error.
“We are in another playoff week and fighting to survive,” Aspen coach Travis Benson said. “It’s going out and executing. It’s always going to be momentum plays. It’s going to come down to about three or four plays and it’s who takes advantage at those points in time.”
Aspen’s playoff essentially started last week, when it won 54-20 at Coal Ridge. While a loss to Basalt won’t immediately eliminate them from the postseason, it would leave their fate up to the computers. By the same token, a win doesn’t guarantee a playoff spot, either, though it would go a long way toward making it happen.
“I’m feeling good. I’m excited. There is no better way to have such an important game in determining playoffs against our biggest rivals, and we get it at home,” AHS senior Jonathan Woodrow said. “We’ve been right there with them. They’ve broken away and we didn’t, so hopefully this year is different.”
TAKE IT ON HOME
Basalt is sitting much more comfortably entering Friday’s game. With an RPI of 7, the Longhorns are pretty much a lock to make the playoffs regardless of how it goes against Aspen. However, with the top eight seeds getting to host a first-round playoff game, there could still be a lot at stake for Basalt.
Should the math hold, a win Friday means Basalt likely hosts a playoff game next weekend. A loss to the Skiers and BHS likely is going on a road trip.
“No matter what the record is, you throw all that stuff out against your rival,” Frerichs said. “These kids are giving it their all. I’m sure they are doing the same thing in Aspen. My kids, even with the weather and all those type of things, my kids are outside practicing. My kids are watching film. My kids are doing everything they can because this game does mean a lot.”
GETTING BACK ON TRACK
Maybe more than anything, the Longhorns hope to right the ship before the playoffs begin. BHS rolled to a 6-0 record and was even No. 1 in RPI at one point this season, but has lost two straight entering Friday’s game with Aspen.
Frerichs wasn’t concerned about last week’s 21-9 loss to No. 1 Rifle, although he did feel his team should have won. The only major setback was their 35-6 loss at Delta on Oct. 18, a game in which they fell behind by two touchdowns barely a minute into the game and never really competed.
“I’ve been really proud of my team this year, except for Delta,” Frerichs said. “I think coaching and playing, we just had a really bad night. Every other game this year I’ve been really proud of my kids and I think they’ve been giving it their all.”
AN APPLE A DAY KEEPS THE DOCTOR AWAY
Aspen had a run of bad luck in terms of injuries early in the season, and it likely cost them a couple of wins. But, as the regular season is about to conclude, the Skiers finally look completely healthy and it couldn’t come at a better time.
Of all the missing pieces, Ufkes has probably been at the top of the list. He led all of 2A in receiving yards last fall and is a key defender, but a nagging hamstring injury has limited him this fall. Desperate to get out there, he even lined up on the defensive line on a few occasions in recent weeks.
He should be back at receiver against Basalt and with no limitations.
“I was doing anything to get on the field,” Ufkes said. “It’s definitely been a long journey for me to play. I’m just really excited to be fully back, fully healthy and ready to grind again.”
For both teams, it’s been the defenses that have really stepped up this fall. Basalt’s defense has been dominant for a few years now, and 2019 has been no different. BHS has only allowed 89 points this fall, which is barely 11 points per game.
Limited by those injuries, the Aspen offense was hit and miss most of the season, but the defense was pretty much rock solid outside of maybe the Rifle game. Aspen is allowing just over 22 points per game, and the defensive effort hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“There are more games this year where their defense has really shown up and really played some good football,” Frerichs said of Aspen. “Travis is doing an awesome job up there. Those kids, their X’s and O’s look great. They are flying around. They looked really, really good against Coal Ridge.”
CAN YOU SEE ME NOW?
Aspen is going to break out its camouflage uniforms Friday, one of the ways it is paying homage to the 10th Mountain Division troops. One of the last surviving members of the 10th Mountain Division, John Tripp, will even join the Skiers for their pregame dinner at the high school.
“We have a jersey for him,” Benson said, “to kind of pay respects to the contributions they not only gave for our freedom during World War II and obviously wars after that with the 10th, but also the contribution they gave to not only Aspen but the rest of the ski industry. And we are the Skiers, after all.”
Members of local ski patrol, which have a close tie with the 10th Mountain Division, will be on hand for the singing of the national anthem as part of the homage.
ONE BIG, HAPPY FAMILY
The game ball will make its way to the AHS turf a little differently Friday. The Aspen and BHS cross country teams will take part in a relay from Basalt to Aspen via the Rio Grande Trail beginning at 3 p.m.
Part of this is to raise money for Grand Valley football player Cayden Schaeffer, who was seriously injured in a game earlier this season. It’s also a way to unite the Aspen and Basalt communities through a common bond.
“When you have rivalries, there is often this perception that they just don’t get along. And I think that’s bad,” first-year Basalt athletic director Jason Santo said. “In high school athletics our goal is to be teaching kids the fun of competition, not the ugly side of competition. And this is a great way to say we are in this valley together. We might compete on the field Friday night, but off the field we work together.”
The Basalt High School football team only needed one half to put away visiting Grand Valley on Friday night, winning 42-6 in the league opener on a wet BHS field. It was also homecoming for the Longhorns.