Football: Aspen eyes another home test |

Football: Aspen eyes another home test

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – The Aspen football team is battered but unbeaten after two weeks of the 2012 season. The inexperienced Skiers even managed to crack the Denver Post’s latest poll.

By virtue of its impressive wins over Ignacio and Roaring Fork, Aspen currently is 10th in 2A. Maintaining that position will be difficult: The Skiers are about to embark on a critical three-game stretch, and they likely will be doing so without their full compliment of players, Aspen head coach Mike Sirko cautioned Wednesday.

He declined to divulge just who might be watching from the sidelines Friday, when the Skiers open 2A Western Slope play against Pagosa Springs in a rematch of a 2009 opening-round playoff game. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m.

“We don’t know yet, but we might have a few kids out. They’re working with the trainers,” Sirko said. “Young players are going to have to step up – we’ve never had more opportunities for young kids than we have this year. We’ve got 12 upperclassmen, so I’m very concerned about where we are.”

Depth and inexperience hardly have been hindrances thus far.

Tailback Casey Hornburg rushed for 125 yards and three touchdowns on just four carries to lead Aspen to a season-opening, 56-0 trouncing of 1A Ignacio.

The 1,000-yard rusher from a season ago was at it again last week against Roaring Fork. Following a big hit from teammate Daniel Schwartz, which helped force a Rams three and out on the opening possession of the second half, Hornburg broke free for a 69-yard touchdown run on the ensuing possession. Aspen, which trailed 7-6 at the break, scored 22 unanswered points in the quarter en route to a 28-7 win.

“We’re definitely back to the old ground and pound,” Sirko joked.

The Skiers clearly have returned to their roots after a 2011 season in which they tailored their offense around highly touted quarterback Tucker Beirne and All-State wide receiver Quinn Morehead. Beirne threw for 2,013 yards and 22 touchdowns in his only season in Aspen. He has since transferred to Christopher Columbus High School in Miami, where he has already been entrenched as the starter.

Luke Rider, a transfer from Colorado Springs, now is under center for the Skiers’ run-first attack. The sophomore, who missed much of summer camp, has completed 10 of 15 passes for 101 yards in his first two games. He has contributed 43 yards and a touchdown on the ground.

“I like his ability to run the football, and he’s got a pretty good arm. He throws a pretty good ball in the intermediate packages we have,” Sirko said. “It’s hard sometimes to come out and start flinging the ball around when you haven’t done a lot over the summer, when the new quarterback and receivers haven’t really been with each other. It’s going to develop a little more each week. … We’re still figuring out who we are.”

It remains to be seen what looks Aspen will give Pagosa Springs on Friday. In the squads’ last meeting, do-everything tailback Nicky Ufkes rushed for 329 yards and four touchdowns in a 46-41 victory, which gave the Skiers a berth in the state quarterfinals.

The Pirates enter Friday with an 0-2 record. They have been outscored 94-13 by Centauri and Alamosa.

“Even though they’re 0-2, it’s hard to really tell what they’re about,” Sirko said. “We’re excited for the contest, but we’re not sure who will be in there yet.”

After Friday’s game, the Skiers hit the road for games against 2011 state runner-up Bayfield and Olathe, which pounded the Skiers, 40-21, last fall.

Admittedly, Sirko is not quite sure where his team will stand when it returns home for Oct. 5’s homecoming game against Gunnison.

“I hope it’s not ugly up to that point,” Sirko said. “Every day is a new experience. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

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