Aspen football travels to Basalt for regular-season finale with a lot on line
Of the four Class 2A Western Slope League teams in position for a playoff spot, the Aspen High School football team is last in terms of RPI. However, the Skiers also are the only ones who simply need to win Friday to lock up a league title.
“It’s a great situation to be in, but at the end of the day it comes down to us executing on Friday,” AHS coach Travis Benson said. “Yes, we are in control of our own destiny, but I think a lot of it is these kids, their effort and their work ethic all year to put themselves in this spot.”
There is a lot on the line when Aspen (6-2 overall, 3-1 WSL) visits rival Basalt (7-1, 3-1) at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 26 in the regular-season finale for both teams. Should AHS win, it would mean the program’s first league championship since the 1970s and it would lock down a spot in the postseason.
Basalt needs Moffat County (3-5) to upset Rifle (7-1) Friday to have a shot at a third consecutive WSL crown. But, even if that doesn’t happen, BHS still has a chance to host a first-round playoff game with a win over the Skiers.
“Those rivalry games are already fun, and then with so much on the line, especially for them, I think it only makes it that much better,” BHS coach Carl Frerichs said. “Really, our kids are playing for a ton, because they are playing for a home-field playoff game.”
The Skiers have been among the biggest surprises this season. With Benson taking over and sophomore Tyler Ward replacing longtime starter R.J. Peshek at quarterback, there was reason to doubt.
However, Aspen hasn’t lost a beat. AHS went 3-1 in non-league play, the only loss coming at then No. 1 Bayfield, 20-8. The Skiers’ only league loss came Sept. 28 at Delta, a 49-40 defeat on the road. Two weeks later, Aspen pulled off the biggest upset of the season, a 20-19 win at then No. 3 Rifle that has given them all the power going into the final game.
“These kids have fought strong the whole way through all year. The Delta week was a tough one,” Benson said. “Our offense didn’t play great at Bayfield and our defense didn’t play great at Delta, and I think for the most part in the rest of the games this year they’ve put it together.”
Aspen is No. 10 in 2A this week and No. 11 in RPI (ratings percentage index), which determines playoff seeding.
The Longhorns rolled to a 7-0 start and had the No. 1 RPI in 2A most of the season. Basalt’s defense is one of the best in the state, having recorded five shutouts over its first seven games.
The only downfall for Basalt came a week ago in a 35-14 road loss at Rifle. BHS led by a point in the third quarter but the Bears made the most of the final quarter to pull away for the crucial win.
“We felt like we honestly played pretty well. They made some big plays,” Frerichs said. “They really got us on some gadget plays and their defensive line definitely played well, but it wasn’t like it was a one-sided game at all and we definitely had our opportunities in that game.”
Basalt dropped to No. 7 this week in 2A. They are No. 5 in RPI.
Aspen’s upset of Rifle was a major curveball for the league. The Bears are No. 7 in RPI this week, while Delta is No. 9, giving the 2A WSL four teams in the top 11. As strong as the league has been, having all four make the 16-team playoff bracket seems possible.
A league title comes with an automatic playoff bid, which will go to Aspen if it beats Basalt. A loss and the Skiers will have to hope their RPI holds enough to still get into the playoffs.
“We play in a pretty remarkable league,” Benson said. “It was remarkable beforehand, but adding Delta and Rifle into the mix, you got good football teams. And Basalt, their football program has reached that point where they are a playoff-worthy team year in and year out.”
A Rifle win Friday and an Aspen loss would give the WSL title to the Bears.
Aspen and Basalt certainly bring a contrasting offensive style to the field. The Skiers have an up-tempo spread offense, while Basalt does a bit more ground-and-pound with senior running back Jake Reardon, who has 1,130 yards and 11 touchdowns rushing this season.
Aspen’s offense centers on Ward, who has thrown for 2,054 yards. He has 25 passing touchdowns and seven interceptions. Junior Trey Fabrocini and junior Jonathan Woodrow have combined for more than 900 rushing yards.
“They really have a high-powered offense. They are fun to watch on film,” Frerichs said of the Aspen offense. “The kids are having fun getting ready for it because it’s so different. High school teams try to run the no-huddle up-tempo, but very few do it to a high level and I feel like they do it at a whole another level.”
The Skiers had one of the state’s best offenses last year, as well, although that didn’t bother Basalt. Aspen’s first loss of 2017 came in Game 6, a 48-22 defeat to Basalt on the Skiers’ homecoming night. Basalt senior Noah Williams rushed for 287 yards and six touchdowns in that game.
The last time Aspen beat Basalt in football was in the 2013 season.
“They are a good team, but I think we match up great. We got guys all the way through that are looking to make plays,” AHS junior Max Ufkes said. “Winning the title would basically take that weight off our shoulders and get us to that level where we know we did something.”
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