Basalt defense stands tall in home opener |

Basalt defense stands tall in home opener

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Jim RyanLonghorns senior Chantri West barrels his way into the end zone from 3 yards out to score a touchdown in the first quarter of Friday's game against Vista Ridge at Basalt High School.

BASALT – With his offense struggling mightily – its biggest play of the night came on a pass interference call – Basalt head football coach Carl Frerichs was forced to rely on his young defense.

The group made things interesting in Friday’s home opener, but ultimately proved to be up to the challenge against Vista Ridge. The Longhorns recovered a fumble and picked off a pass to halt two Wolves drives in the red zone in the opening half. They stood tall on multiple occasions in the final 16 minutes and, on the strength of a bruising 3-yard, first-quarter touchdown run from Chantri West, pulled out a 7-0 win.

“We were a thousand times better [than last week]. The kids tackled,” said Frerichs, whose team was blanked, 36-0, at Meeker last Friday. “The whole thing I stress to them is to bend, not break.”

That defense bent a lot. After going three-and-out on its first possession and surrendering a touchdown, Vista Ridge marched 59 yards in 13 plays. After losing 1 yard on a botched snap at the Longhorns’ 12-yard-line, quarterback Taylor Abbott faked the hand-off on a third-and-2, took a hit and lost the ball. Basalt’s Beto Gamboa recovered the fumble to bail his team out.

The Wolves pushed the ball deep into the Longhorns’ end on their final drive of the opening half, but squandered the opportunity once more. On first down, Basalt’s Tanner Banc read Abbott’s eyes on a slant, jumped the route and picked off the pass as he slid to the grass.

“I think we played a lot smarter,” Longhorns junior Sean Chenoweth said. “We went over things a lot during practice [this week.] Things went much better.”

At least on defense. Last week, the Basalt offense pushed the ball inside the red zone once and set up inside the Meeker 40 four other times. On Friday, however, they could get little going.

The Longhorns (1-1) mustered just 114 yards of offense. Forty-six of those came on what proved to be the game’s lone scoring drive. Basalt strung together 12 plays and chewed up more than five minutes on their second drive of the game, one in which it twice converted on third down and once on fourth down. West capped things off with a 3-yard run, dragging multiple Wolves defenders across the goal line with 2 minutes, 22 seconds remaining in the first quarter.

“We need to learn how to finish drives more,” Chenoweth said. “I think it’s mental issues. It didn’t help being beaten by 36 last week.”

The Longhorns’ offensive woes gave Vista Ridge life during a sloppy second half. After punting on their first two possessions, the Wolves pulled off a trick play – a fake punt on a fourth-and-8 from the Basalt 49 with little more than 11 minutes to play in the game – to extend the drive. Later, tailback Christian Taft converted on fourth-and-3 to set Vista Ridge up at the Longhorns’ 29.

The Wolves stalled from there, however, and Abbott’s fourth down pass sailed harmlessly out of play.

Vista Ridge had one last chance after forcing a punt and taking over at its own 20 with 2:54 remaining. After an incomplete pass, a false start and two running plays that netted just 10 yards, Abbott stepped under center on fourth-and-6 with 1:40 remaining. Instead of going to the air, he faked a sweep to the outside, then handed off to running back Tyree Walker on an inside counter. A host of Basalt defenders met Walker in the hole, jarring the ball loose.

Chenoweth recovered the fumble, all but sealing the game.

“That felt nice,” he said. “We finally had a grasp on the game right there.”

Longhorns quarterback Cory Ostrander, who attempted just two passes and completed none, kneeled twice to run out the clock. After a long week, the Basalt sideline finally had something to smile about.

“This is a big relief,” Chenoweth said. “We can relax for tonight and Sunday.”

“We have a lot of young guys starting, and the more they play the better they’ll get,” added Frerichs, whose team hosts Paonia at 7 p.m. Friday. “This is a big win for us.”

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