Aspen football logs historic win at Steamboat Springs
The Aspen Times
The Aspen Skiers enjoyed their historic trip to Steamboat Springs on Friday night.
The Aspen High School football team, playing the Sailors on the gridiron for the first time in nearly 30 years, bolted to a 20-0 lead and held on for a hard-fought 23-14 victory behind the rushing of tailback Ryan Fitzgerald.
The senior all-stater ran for a career-high 348 yards on 34 workmanlike carries (unofficially) and scored two touchdowns as the Class 2A Skiers recorded the historic nonleague victory over the Class 3A Sailors.
“It was a total team effort,” Aspen head coach Ryan Triece said. “Our line … did a great job blocking for Ryan.”
Fitzgerald broke free for an 80-yard touchdown run on Aspen’s first offensive play of the second half after the Skiers had built a 13-0 halftime lead. Fitzgerald also scored Aspen’s first touchdown, capping a 55-yard scoring drive with a 1-yard TD late in the first quarter.
The Skiers also scored on a 95-yard drive in the first half. Matt Gregory completed the drive with a 9-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. Gregory finished with 49 yards rushing on seven carries. He also had 54 yards on punt returns against the Sailors.
“That was big scoring at the beginning of the game and the beginning of the third quarter,” Triece said. “That’s been a point of emphasis for us this year.”
The Aspen defense did the rest, shutting down the Sailors with a scoreless first half in spite of losing one fumble. Likewise, the Aspen defense stymied Steamboat quarterback Zach Holm and versatile tailback/receiver Mitch McCannon for much of the second half.
The Sailors finally put their first points on the board late in the third quarter when McCannon set up a touchdown with a 30-yard punt return.
Holm scored from the 4-yard line, and Joe Deline’s extra-point kick cut Aspen’s lead to 20-7 with :40 to play in the third quarter.
The Sailors pulled within 20-14 when they turned an Aspen turnover into a 45-yard scoring drive. The TD came on a 40-yard pass from Holm to a leaping Jesse Pugh with 7:08 to play in the game.
The Skiers defense needed one big stand, and then the Aspen offense marched down for a 29-yard John Heaphey field goal with 14 seconds left to seal the win.
Evan Morris led the Skiers with 16 tackles. teammate Nick Morgan had 12 tackles and a sack.
“They scored on two fourth-down plays,” Triece said. “We were that close to a shutout.”
He said the Skiers benefited from playing under pressure against a team with outstanding athletes.
“I’m just really pleased,. To get this first road win is huge,” Triece said.
Aspen (2-1) will return home to host Cedaredge next Friday.
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Peter Arnold’s playing career ended after high school, but his time on the ice continues a few decades later. A longtime USA Hockey official and new Aspen resident, Arnold is searching for the next generation of hockey referees among the youth ranks here in the Roaring Fork Valley.