Football: Aspen pours it on late, downs Gunnison |

Football: Aspen pours it on late, downs Gunnison

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Leah MoriartySkiers senior Dan Schwartz takes a breather during Friday's game against Gunnison at Aspen High School.

ASPEN – Aspen couldn’t hold onto the ball in the first half.

In the second, the Skiers couldn’t be stopped.

They shook off a sluggish first 24 minutes in Friday’s homecoming game against Gunnison. Three different players rushed for 80 or more yards, and Aspen erupted for 21 points in the third quarter’s first eight minutes, cruising to a 48-14 victory.

“Fumbles have kind of been our demise this year,” said Skiers head coach Mike Sirko, whose squad improved to 5-1. “I don’t want to keep making excuses, but we’re still a little young and have a lot of people playing different positions. You can practice it all week, but things change in the heat of battle.”

Aspen put the ball on the turf six times in the first half, losing three of them – including a botched handoff in the final minute of the second quarter inside the Cowboys’ 5-yard-line.

Consequently, the Skiers led by just seven at the break.

An impassioned speech from Sirko turned the tide.

“It was a great speech, one of the better ones of the year,” quarterback Luke Rider said. “(Sirko) was himself. Very fiery.”

Added Sirko, “The PG version is that I told them there wasn’t a whole lot to talk about. The reason Gunnison was still in the game was because they weren’t playing up to their capabilities. Bottom line, we can’t make those types of mistakes.”

Aspen didn’t in the third quarter. The Skiers protected the ball and got the ground game going, turning a tight contest into a runaway by the start of the fourth quarter.

They marched 57 yards in six plays on the opening drive of the second half. Freshman fullback Zac Storm finished things off with an 8-yard scoring scamper, stretching the Aspen lead to 28-14.

The Skiers defense forced a fumble on the ensuing Gunnison possession, and then Aspen went to work once more. With starting tailback Casey Hornburg watching from the sidelines in a wheelchair after having surgery this week to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee, Dan Schwartz took a handoff from Rider, burst through the middle, bounced outside and rumbled 12 yards to the end zone.

Hornburg, who rushed for 264 yards in last week’s win in Olathe, is not expected to return to the field for a few weeks.

“Not having him is huge, but thankfully we had some other guys step up,” Sirko said. “The O-line really got off the ball and played well. There were some caverns there that everybody was able to run through.”

Sophomore Ryan Fitzgerald took advantage, picking up 88 yards on 14 carries and scoring two touchdowns – once in the third quarter and again early in the fourth as the lead ballooned to 34. Storm pitched in with 80 yards, while Schwartz led the team with 117 yards on 18 carries. The senior scored twice in the first half, helping the Skiers erase deficits each time.

Rider’s 45 yards on the ground included an athletic, 29-yard touchdown run that put Aspen ahead for good about four minutes before halftime.

The sophomore signal caller also kept the chains moving with his arm, completing nine of 13 pass attempts for 137 yards.

“Casey is our No. 1 offensive guy, and I feel like I have to step up more than usual when he’s out,” Rider said. “We’ve got to get better with the ball-handling and the fundamentals. We need to go back to work.”

The Skiers will look to notch a third consecutive win next week, when they visit Coal Ridge.

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