Aspen football looks to carry momentum into physical Cedaredge on Friday
Matt Popish called it “a really cool experience.” Not only that, when the Aspen High School senior linebacker returned his interception for a touchdown last week at Arvada, it was a statement of sorts for the Skiers’ defense.
The AHS football team surrendered 50 points in its zero week opener against Middle Park, an 80-50 win, but made up for it with a 44-0 rout of the Bulldogs on Saturday in Denver.
“We stepped it up a lot from the week before,” Popish said. “The last couple of weeks we have only been focusing on tackling. I think the D-line did really good. They put a lot of pressure on the quarterback.”
Aspen (2-0) will need more of last week’s defense if it wants to keep its perfect season alive when it heads to Cedaredge (0-1) on Friday for a 7 p.m. game. The Bruins were preseason No. 9 in Class 1A, but opened the fall with a 31-8 loss last week at Monte Vista, dropping them from the rankings. Monte Vista is No. 8 in 1A this week.
But the rankings don’t resonate to the Skiers like last year’s matchup did, a 42-8 Cedaredge win in Aspen. The Bruins, long a powerhouse in 1A — they won the 2012 state championship — never gave AHS much of a chance in the 2016 game.
“Physicality was a lot of it. They just line up in wishbone at times and run fullback dive and get eight yards,” AHS coach Karson Pike said. “When you can do that, your whole playbook is open. We certainly have to match the physicality, play with better pad level, play better technique. If we can do that and our offense can avoid three-and-outs and get some momentum, we have a chance to wear them out.”
Much like with Cedaredge, the jury is still out on Aspen this season. Although, the Skiers like where they stand. Their 2-0 start matches their win total from each of the past two seasons, when they went 2-7. They have combined for 124 points in six quarters this season — the second half of the Arvada game was played with a running clock and neither team scored after halftime — and received the third most votes of non-ranked teams in Class 2A this week in the CHSAANow.com poll.
Pike doesn’t expect to see the 80-point offense nor the shutout defense against Cedaredge, but hopes he can find a happy medium from the first two games of the season to counter Cedaredge and its physicality.
“A little concern is the size. They have some large men on their team, so hopefully we can wear them out,” Pike said. “We are getting a little pub from CHSAANow and game of the weeks and things like that. We talk a lot on not letting that go to our mind. But we certainly need to say in rhythm offensively.”
Heading into the weekend on a high note is especially important for Aspen, as the high school has its yearly experiential education week next week. This means, other than a small session on Saturday, Skiers won’t see each other all of next week during the team’s bye. No practices, no film sessions, nothing. Even Pike will spend much of the week backpacking through the Flat Tops.
So Friday is as much about staying on their current high as anything with league play only a few weeks away.
“As coach says, we haven’t earned anything yet. If we lose this game, everyone forgets about Aspen,” Popish said. “They took it to us last year. Hopefully we’ll go out and perform like we did the last couple of weeks. Hopefully we’ll cut down on the missed tackles and hopefully our offense stays good, keeps driving down the field and takes it to Cedaredge.”
After back-to-back finals that required dramatic rallies to win, the Gentlemen of Aspen Rugby Club was able to coast to its three-peat title on Sunday in the finale of the 55th annual Ruggerfest tournament.