Aspen football knocks off league champs

Dale Strode
The Aspen Times
Aspen's Ryan Fitzgerald breaks free on a 90-yard touchdown run against Bayfield last season. Fitzgerald, who rushed for 228 yards against the Wolverines, was named the Class 2A all-state team by the Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA).
Leigh Vogel/The Aspen Times |

The wait is over for the Aspen Skiers.

After a half-decade of frustration against Class 2A powerhouse Bayfield, the Aspen High School football team finally celebrated a victory over the Wolverines.

With two long second-half touchdown runs by Ryan Fitzgerald, the Skiers beat the defending Western League champions, 24-6, under the Friday night lights at the Aspen High School field.

“They’ve been a great team the last few years,” said Fitzgerald, who finished with 228 yards rushing on 20 carries. “They’ve taken it to us before … we just wanted this so bad.”

Right after the Wolverines cut the Aspen lead to 10-6 on an 85-yard drive spanning the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth, Fitzgerald and the Aspen offense answered.

First, Fitzgerald followed Ryer Gardenswartz, Matt Sovich and JJ Ready on the right side for 27 yards.

But a block in the back penalty negated the gain and pushed the Skiers back to their own 10-yard line.

On the next play, Fitzgerald took a handoff from quarterback Tyler Tick and ran left, behind Jake Ferlisi, Tristan Hiskanen, Henry Woodrow and a handful of other black shirts.

Ninety yards later, Fitzerald scored — untouched.

After stopping Bayfield on downs on the ensuing possession, Fitzgerald broke through the right side and ran 40 yards for Aspen’s final score in a 24-6 victory.

“We went into halftime, and we said we all have to step it up (in the second half),” Fitzgerald said, adding that the offensive line worked effectively against the Bayfield defense.

“I can’t thank them enough,” said Fitzgerald, the son of Kirsten and Steve Fitzgerald. “And the crowd. We had an awesome crowd.”

The Skiers took a 10-0 first-half lead in the home opener on a 27-yard field goal by John Heaphey, a member of the AHS boys soccer team. He also added three conversions and hammered three of his four kickoffs all the way into the Bayfield end zone.

The Wolverines, who lost senior running back/linebacker Trey Lange to a leg injury in the first half, had five turnovers in the Friday night loss — three fumbles and two interceptions.

Sophomore Zane Phelps took over as the main cog in the offense, carrying 26 times for 111 yards.

Sophomore quarterback Kelton McCoy completed 10 of 19 passes for 110 yards and one touchdown — an 8-yard strike to Taed Heydinger to conclude the Wolverines’ long scoring drive.

“I think our tailback grew up this week,” veteran Aspen head coach Mike Sirko said after the Skiers improved to 3-1 overall, 2-0 in the Western League. “I’m just proud of the way the kids played (Friday night).”

Sirko, who has led the Skiers in the state playoffs for six consecutive years, said the Skiers earned a tough victory over the defending league champions.

“Our defense, all night long, played hard,” he said of the Aspen defense, led by linebacker Luke O’Callaghan.

The Skiers also had interceptions by Harry Ferguson and Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald’s pick on Bayfield’s opening possession led to the Heaphey field goal.

Ferguson’s pick, on Bayfield’s final possesion, set the stage for Aspen’s final victory formation.

“That was all heart out there,” Sirko said. “I talked about one heartbeat with the kids, and that’s what it was.”

The Skiers will host Olathe in a homecoming game next Friday night.

Bayfield fell to 1-1 in conference, 2-2 overall with Friday’s loss.

The Wolverines, who reached the state semifinals last year and the state championship game in 2011, will host Grand Valley next weekend.

Basalt falls

In other football games in the Western League on Friday night, the Basalt Longhorns dropped a close 6-2 decision to visiting Pagosa Springs.

Basalt fell to 0-4 overall, 0-2 in league play.

Pagosa Springs improved to 1-1 in the Western League, 1-3 overall. Pagosa Springs lost to Aspen, 21-14, last week.

Also Friday, Gunnison defeated Grand Valley, 27-25.

Olathe, Aspen’s next opponent, shut out Coal Ridge, 43-0, on Friday night in Olathe.