Aspen pounds Moffat County in season opener

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Rustin Gudim/The Aspen TimesSkiers tailback Nicky Ufkes battles for a few extra yards during Friday's season opener against Moffat County at Aspen High School.

ASPEN – Forget Wilco. The Aspen football team delivered Friday night’s best performance.

Many expected the Skiers to be tested against visiting Moffat County. They were breaking in a new quarterback, playing in front of a packed house for the first time since November and squaring off with a squad that went 6-4 at the 3A level last fall.

Little could slow high-powered Aspen on this night, however. The Skiers scored touchdowns on five of their first six possessions – two on passes from signal caller Rex Christensen – erupted for 37 points in the first half and cruised to a 46-13, season-opening victory over the Bulldogs.

“We started fast again. I was really proud of the effort right from the get-go,” Skiers head coach Mike Sirko said. “The offense kept the pressure on, the defense made big stops … and I think we took the wind out of their sails.”

It was clear that Moffat County had one strategy on defense: Crowd the line of scrimmage and bottle up Nicky Ufkes, one of the state’s most prolific running backs. Sirko countered by putting the ball in the hands of his talented but inexperienced senior quarterback.

If he was feeling the pressure in his first high school start, Christensen did not show it. He hit junior receiver Quinn Morehead in stride for 10 yards on a third-and-4 on the opening drive. Later, he found Daniel Ryerson in the flat for 13, then connected with tight end Jake Nugent for a 6-yard score, giving Aspen a 7-0 advantage with 6 minutes, 53 seconds remaining in the first quarter.

During Aspen’s second offensive series, Christensen helped set up a short scoring run from Ufkes by connecting with Morehead on a 38-yard pass up the right sideline.

“He threw it, and the first thing I thought was, ‘Why’d you throw me the hardest ball to catch?’ I thought it was way over my head,” Morehead said. “I turned my head, threw my arms out and caught the tip of the ball.

“[Christensen] was throwing perfect balls. We were flying.”

Christensen, who also hooked up with Morehead for an 11-yard score on the second play of the second quarter, was 10-for-16 for 129 yards in little more than a half of work.

“He did a great job. More than anything, Rex is a pretty cool character,” Sirko said. “They were doing everything they could to stop the run, and we took advantage of that. … He handled himself very well.”

Ufkes was uncharacteristically held in check for much of the first half. He finally broke free in the waning minutes of the second quarter, bouncing outside and sprinting untouched up the sideline for 45 yards and his third touchdown.

The senior capped off the Skiers’ opening drive of the second half with a 30-yard scoring scamper. He finished with 162 yards on 19 carries.

Aspen’s defense made sure its offense had the ball often. The unit forced five turnovers in the opening half – Ufkes and Christensen recovered fumbles, Morehead and sophomore Casey Hornburg picked off passes and the Bulldogs turned the ball over on downs.

Moffat County went three-and-out twice to open the game and picked up just 2 yards in their first four possessions. They finally broke through with 9:46 remaining in the second quarter, when dual-threat quarterback Bubba Ivers connected with tight end Brady Conner on a 41-yard touchdown strike that momentarily trimmed the Skiers’ lead to 21-6.

Aspen responded with two consecutive touchdowns, then Daniel Munger booted a 42-yard field goal in the final minute of the half to put things out of reach.

Reserves played the bulk of the second half for the Skiers, who surrendered one more score on a 3-yard run from the Bulldogs’ Mason Updike.

“We knew we would come out firing, but we thought it would be close. We thought this was going to be like Aspen-Olathe or Aspen-Faith Christian,” Morehead said. “It turned out to be like Aspen-Rangely. [It was] a great surprise.”

“We need a little more consistency in everything we do … but a W is a W,” Sirko added. “This is a good start.”

The road seemingly gets tougher from here. The Skiers travel to Pocatello, Idaho, to take on that state’s defending 3A state champions, the Shelley Russets, at 10:30 on Saturday, Sept. 4. Then, they’ll return home Sept. 17 to host Hotchkiss – one of two squads to defeat Aspen during the 2009 regular season.