Aspen football readies for gargantuan task against top-ranked Bayfield
As difficult as the Aspen High School football schedule is in 2018, the team’s season-opening 38-26 win over host Meeker was incredibly important.
“It was a huge confidence builder,” AHS coach Travis Benson said. “The nice part is we were able to win while making mistakes and overcoming them. With a new quarterback in the system and new players around him and finding out where we all fit in with this current year, it was a nice start. It was a healthy introduction for those kids.”
While Meeker, which remains ranked in Class 1A, is certainly no slouch, the Skiers find themselves facing a whole different animal Saturday, Sept. 8 when they face host Bayfield at 1 p.m. Yes, the same Bayfield team that is currently ranked No. 1 in Class 2A and just so happens to be the defending 2A state champions.
“Bayfield is a good football team. There is no question about it,” Benson said. “They are developing football players down there better than anybody else in the state at this point. But we are also at the same time excited to play them.”
The Wolverines are 2-0 after wins over Farmington (N.M.) and San Juan (UT) by scores of 54-13 and 27-0, respectively. Bayfield is riding a 15-game win streak into Saturday’s game with Aspen, its last loss coming 14-13 at La Junta in the 2016 state semifinals. Bayfield got their revenge after crushing La Junta 34-7 in the 2017 state championship game.
En route to the state title a year ago, Bayfield shut out eight opponents, including 2A Western Slope League champion Basalt, which fell 41-0 in the second round of the playoffs.
Aspen, which will certainly be the smaller team, hopes its speedy offense can be a difference maker against one of the state’s best defenses.
“We offer something with our offense,” Benson said. “We do things a little bit differently than a lot of teams they face and we are excited for the opportunity. But we also are very realistic about the feat ahead.”
The Skiers were solid in their only game, especially on offense. Sophomore quarterback Tyler Ward threw five touchdown passes — all to senior receiver Noah Hollander — in his first varsity start. He’s expected to start again vs. Bayfield.
The AHS defense, while it made plays when it needed to against the Cowboys, did allow Meeker’s own sophomore quarterback, Ryan Phelan, to throw for more than 300 yards. The Wolverines probably won’t go that route, as they have only thrown 31 combined passes in two games this season, but are averaging nearly 250 yards on the ground.
“Bayfield is very well coached,” Benson said. “They run a very sophisticated offense. They spread the field like we do, but they run more formations than we do.”
Aspen also hopes having last week off for experiential education will be a benefit. The Meeker game was way back on Aug. 24, but that week off from both games and practices hasn’t seemed to bother the Skiers this past week.
“They stepped forward this week. They practiced hard. They definitely had a lot of energy about themselves,” Benson said. “The kids have been grinding now since the first week of August, and to have that week off is actually a little bit refreshing for the kids. It gets them away from football. Yeah, you lose a little bit of rhythm, but I’m happy to say we didn’t lose that much rhythm.”
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