Aspen High football moves to 4-0 with ‘gritty’ 30-26 win over Grand Valley
PARACHUTE — An ill-timed lightning delay and an ensuing goal-line stop by the visiting Aspen High School football team ended any hopes at a homecoming upset for the host Grand Valley Cardinals on Friday after a 30-26 loss in Parachute.
Aspen did not play or practice last week due to its experiential education week.
“Pretty gritty performance from the guys coming off a week away from football,” Aspen coach Karson Pike told The Aspen Times. “Three turnovers right away early on. A lot of missed tackles, which a week away from football will do that to you.”
With the Cardinals driving midway through the fourth quarter into Skier territory at the Aspen 10-yard line, lightning moved into the area, forcing the two teams off the field until the skies cleared. Following a 30-plus minute delay, the teams came back onto the field with Grand Valley in the red zone.
Unfortunately, the high-powered Cardinal attack couldn’t score, giving the ball back to Aspen, which was able to hang on for the win in a fast-paced, back-and-forth game.
“I definitely felt like (the lightning delay) was a momentum killer,” Grand Valley coach Tim Lenard said. “We needed to come out of the locker room and execute down there near the goal line, but hats off to Aspen; they executed better than we did and made some great plays keeping us out of there. I don’t want to sound like we lost because of the delay, because that’s not the reason why. We should have gotten the ball into the end zone there.”
Coming into the game, Grand Valley’s focus defensively was on the vaunted Aspen passing attack, but in the first eight plays of the game Grand Valley forced three turnovers, highlighted by an interception from senior Jeff Holbrook and one by senior Laytham Magana off of Aspen quarterback R.J. Peshek.
However, the Cardinals couldn’t completely take advantage of the three turnovers, scoring just one touchdown — a 21-yard scamper by junior running back Jonathan Pena — to take an 8-0 lead after a 2-point conversion from Holbrook.
Following its third turnover of the first quarter, the Aspen offense righted itself, driving 76 yards in seven plays as Peshek found Jordan Hornburg down the middle of the field for 28 yards before then finding Noah Hollander for 17 yards, knotting the game at 8-8 with three minutes to go in the first quarter.
With the passing game in gear on the road, the Aspen defense tightened up to close the first quarter, forcing a three-and-out from the Cardinals, giving the ball right back to the Skiers’ offense.
Ten plays later, Peshek found Max Ufkes for a 4-yard touchdown on a slant route, giving the Skiers a 16-8 lead.
Looking to get back on track offensively, the Cardinals responded to the Skiers’ touchdown with a 13-play drive, marching all the way to the Aspen 31-yard line before turning the ball over on downs.
Three plays after the turnover on downs, Aspen found the end zone again as Peshek found Ufkes deep behind the Grand Valley secondary for a 45-yard strike, extending the Aspen lead to 22-8 with 3:42 remaining in the first half.
Not to be outdone, the Cardinals roared right back, marching 56 yards in four plays following a great kickoff return from freshman Jaden Jordan. Holbrook kept the ball on a read-option, racing 30 yards up the middle of the Aspen defense for the score, pulling the Cardinals to within eight points at 22-14 right before the half.
Receiving the ball to start the second half, Grand Valley kept rolling offensively as Holbrook scampered 68 yards down the left sideline, pulling the Cardinals to within two points — 22-20 — following a failed 2-point conversion.
Riding the momentum wave in the second half, Grand Valley’s defense stood tall on Aspen’s first offensive possession of the second half, forcing a punt back to the red-hot Cardinal offense.
Three plays later, Grand Valley struck again as Holbrook weaved from the right sideline back across the field to the left sideline, outrunning the Aspen defense for a 37-yard touchdown to put Grand Valley up 26-22 just over four minutes into the third quarter.
But sticking with the high-scoring display on the night, Aspen struck right back as Peshek found Ufkes for a 58-yard touchdown down the middle of the field before converting the 2-point conversion to give Aspen a 30-26 lead midway through the third quarter.
That would be it for the scoring, despite Grand Valley driving all the way to the Aspen 4-yard line following the lightning delay before the Skier defense tightened up, giving Aspen a big road win in a thrilling offensive matchup.
“We were able to go in there and come back together after the lightning delay and really get some huge defensive stops that won us the game,” Pike said. “That was huge.”
On the night, Peshek threw for 309 yards and four touchdowns to go along with two interceptions, while Holbrook matched his counterpart, albeit in a different way, rushing for 230 yards and two touchdowns.
“He (Holbrook) made some good decisions with the ball tonight,” Lenard said. “When things broke down, he looked to make plays, and he’s a competitor. He really wanted to win tonight’s game, as everyone on this team did, but I’m just proud of all the kids’ effort tonight. They fought hard, but we just came up short.”
With the loss, Grand Valley falls to 2-2 on the season.
Aspen, which entered the week No. 9 in Class 2A in the season’s first RPI rankings, moves to 4-0 with the win. The Skiers open Western Slope League play next week at Coal Ridge.
“It was a very emotional game at the end for our guys, being 4-0 from where we were last year and some of the adversity we faced in the game,” Pike said. “I think they are very excited and now we have to get back fine-tuned and get ready for what looks to be a pretty good Coal Ridge team coming down the pipe.”
Austin Colbert of The Aspen Times contributed to this report.
Fully aware he was in the midst of the mountain bike race of his life, Aspen’s John Gaston said he “tried to not think too far ahead” to prevent the magnitude of the moment from getting to him. He eventually finished runner-up in the iconic race.
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