Football: Unbeaten Aspen faces stiff test |

Football: Unbeaten Aspen faces stiff test

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – While his offenses primarily have been run-oriented during his tenure at Aspen, Mike Sirko is not averse to throwing the ball.

The venerable coach has utilized pass-heavy systems before – notably at 4A Rampart, where he won a state title.

“I feel like you’ve got to play to the strengths of the team you have,” Sirko said Tuesday. “You have to do whatever it takes to win football games.”

Even if it means going to the air 35 times.

With his team trailing by two touchdowns after the first quarter in Sept. 2’s road game against 3A Moffatt County, Sirko had little choice but to repeatedly call on freshman signal caller Tucker Beirne.

Beirne and senior wide receiver Quinn Morehead rose to the occasion. They hooked up 20 times for 258 yards and four touchdowns, including a game-winning

37-yard score with less than two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs’ ensuing drive stalled in the red zone; quarterback Bubba Ivers was sacked, the clock ran out and the Skiers (2-0) escaped with a 32-28 win.

All told, Beirne completed 27 of 35 passes for 325 yards. In two games, the precocious 14-year-old has thrown for 513 yards and eight scores.

“Quinn had one of those games that every high school kid dreams about. And Tucker is growing every week – that’s something we hope he continues to do,” Sirko said. “[This new offense] has been a fun little change of pace. … The beauty is, you put this in hoping the young man can handle it. He’s done it so far, but we’ve all got to keep getting better.”

He added: “That was a great high school football game. Both teams played their hearts out, and it was one of those games that you’re proud of. It was a huge character builder.”

Friday promises to be one, too. After a bye, the Skiers, No. 4 in The Denver Post’s latest media poll, visit Hotchkiss in the second of three consecutive road games. The Bulldogs, 1A’s second-ranked team, routed 2A Western Slope opponents Roaring Fork and Cedaredge by a combined score of 61-9 in their first two games.

They now will set their sights on Aspen, a team they have given fits in recent years. Hotchkiss was one of two teams to hand the Skiers a regular-season defeat in 2009, and last year raced out to a 15-point advantage in the first quarter. A 5-yard quarterback keeper from Rex Christensen with 8 minutes remaining in the fourth gave Aspen its first lead at 29-22, then, after an interception, tailback Nicky Ufkes picked up three key first downs to help the Skiers run out the clock.

Ufkes tallied a school-record 47 carries for 231 yards that night. Aspen conceivably could be going to the air that many times Friday.

“I hope not, but I’ve learned you never say never,” Sirko said.

“Every game against them has been a war. We came back last year after going to Idaho and beating a great team, and they gave us all we wanted. … They’re very well coached and their kids are tough. They play hard, they’re confident and they’re a team to be reckoned with in any classification.”

A rare off week afforded the Skiers coaching staff an opportunity to scout Hotchkiss last week in Cedaredge. What they witnessed was a balanced rushing attack that fueled the Bulldogs’ 26-3 win.

Jaime Rodriguez led the way with 80 yards on the ground and one touchdown. He scored four touchdowns and averaged more than 9 yards a carry in Sept. 2’s rout of Roaring Fork.

“Negating their speed [is my biggest concern],” Sirko said. “They have speed at every skill position, and we can’t let them break the big ones. We’ve got to control the football, and we can’t let ourselves get down early. We have to come out ready to go.”

Sirko doesn’t expect that to be a problem, even after the long layoff.

“The extra practice was good for us – it gives you a chance to work on some things you didn’t get to in the first 10 days,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of seniors who know they only have seven games after this. That’s all we’re guaranteed. We’re going to have to match the intensity and the level of play we’ve had in order to make this a great football game. These kids will.”

The Longhorns rebounded from a season-opening loss to Glenwood Springs in a big way last week, running all over Rangely en route to a 48-14 victory.

Jonny Madrano and Zach Mobilian each scored two rushing touchdowns and the defense dominated throughout for Basalt, which led 28-0 after the first half and were never tested.

The Longhorns figure to be a sizable favorite again Friday, when they host 1A Paonia. Basalt will be looking to solidify its quarterback situation before Sept. 23’s 2A Western Slope opener at Olathe. Andrew Bair, Johnson Emerson and J.R. Krueger all saw time under center last week. All three threw touchdown passes.

Class 2A

1. Florence, 3-0

2. Brush, 2-0

3. Kent Denver, 2-0

4. Aspen, 2-0

5. Olathe, 1-1

6. Bayfield, 2-0

7. Faith Christian, 1-1

8. Bennett, 2-0

9. Pagosa Springs, 3-0

10. C.S. Christian, 2-1

Others receiving votes: Buena Vista 6, La Junta 6, Coal Ridge 5, St. Mary’s 4, Eaton 2, Gunnison 1, Weld Central 1.

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