Aspen pounds Gunnison, improves to 4-0

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Aspen Skier Quinn Morehead dodges the Gunnison defense during ridays homecoming game.

ASPEN – Quinn Morehead had the letters “WDW” buzzed into one side of his head before Friday’s homecoming game against Gunnison.

“It means ‘Win Damn it Win,'” he explained.

The Aspen junior sure did his part to help the Skiers continue to roll. The explosive wide receiver caught three passes for 114 yards and two touchdowns – including a 54-yard connection with quarterback Rex Christensen less than two minutes before halftime – and also returned a punt 60 yards for a score.

Aspen, ranked second in The Denver Post’s latest 2A poll, scored touchdowns on their first three possessions, jumped out to a 35-0 lead at the break and cruised to a 42-0 win over the Cowboys. They are now 4-0, and 1-0 in 2A Western Slope play.

“A lot of things go on during homecoming week, but I thought the kids were really focused,” Skiers head coach Mike Sirko said. “It was a great win for these seniors, the kids who have been in this program for four years. They played hard.”

After narrowly escaping with victories against Shelley (Idaho) and Hotchkiss in back-to-back weeks, Aspen had little trouble on this night.

The Skiers moved the ball 54 yards in just five plays – 44 came on a run from workhorse tailback Nicky Ufkes – on their opening drive, which was capped with a 2-yard scamper from fullback Daniel Ryerson. The senior scored twice in the opening half despite rushing for just 5 yards on five carries.

Ufkes shed two tacklers on a 9-yard touchdown run with 3 minutes, 12 seconds remaining in the opening quarter to extend the lead to 14-0. The senior rushed for 104 yards on 13 carries – all in the first half.

Morehead took center stage less than two minutes later, when he fielded a punt at the Aspen 40-yard line. He sprinted up the middle and faked out a defender before bouncing outside and rushing untouched up the near sideline.

“On the first [return], I was so excited I tripped. I told myself I had to take one of these back,” Morehead said. “I almost tripped over Nicky on that one, but the blocking was great.”

Nobody stood in Morehead’s way in the latter stages of the opening half. On the first play of the Skiers’ sixth offensive possession, Christensen dropped back and lofted a pass that hit Morehead in stride up the far sideline.

“I ran a fly route and got [the cornerback] to bite on a fake,” Morehead said. “I caught the ball with the tips of my fingers. It was perfect.”

Added Sirko: “Rex threw an interception [in the first quarter] because they were sitting on the out [route]. That’s why we faked the out and went deep. … Rex has got great resolve. He does a good job out there.”

A week after completing just 4-of-15 passes against Hotchkiss, Christensen was an efficient 5-for-9 for 141 yards and two touchdowns. He hooked up with Morehead for a 10-yard score on Aspen’s opening possession of the third quarter, stretching the lead to 42-0.

While the Skiers’ first-team offense seemingly moved the ball at will in two-plus quarters on the field, the Cowboys were stymied for a full four quarters. Aspen’s “Black Shirts” forced four three-and-outs in the opening half in addition to producing a turnover on downs and a fumble, which was recovered by Daniel Munger.

Of Gunnison’s eight drives in the first 24 minutes, seven stalled after four or fewer plays.

The Cowboys had no luck against the Skiers’ reserves in the second half, either. They turned the ball over on downs twice and lost another fumble.

“We really got the defense going tonight,” Sirko said. “Even our young kids kept them out of the end zone. I’m proud of that.

“Again, this is a nice win for us, but we have to continue to get better. It’s not going to get any easier. Going on the road changes everything. We’ll be out of our comfort zone.”

Aspen visits Grand Valley at 7 p.m. Friday.