Gentlemen of Aspen run wild against rival Vail
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
ASPEN – Moments after the halftime whistle sounded Saturday, the Gentlemen of Aspen’s Peceli Rinakama kneeled and slipped off his bright-blue cleats.
They likely were a little hot after the 40 minutes he spent burning the Vail defense.
Rinakama and fellow back James Aldridge ran wild on the Rio Grande pitch. The duo’s combination of speed and strength – a delight to the sizable home crowd but a daunting challenge for the Mountain League rival Blue and White – resulted in three tries in both the first and second halves. Aspen led by 23 at the break and never was seriously tested in a 57-25 rout.
“I see him with the ball, and I’m like, ‘What is he going to do now?'” Aldridge, a former Notre Dame fullback, joked of Rinakama. “I just try to run alongside him, and hopefully I’m going to get the ball.
“It felt good to get out there and run with the boys.”
The Gents were off and running early. Just two minutes into the opening half, Merritt Johnson shook free on a run up the middle, drew a defender and passed to a wide-open Rinakama; the Fijian jogged across the try line for an uncontested score.
About 15 minutes later, Aldridge stretched the lead to 12 when he hauled in an errant pass, paused, then sprinted up the near sideline. A Vail player, who swung and missed on an attempted arm tackle, could do nothing but shake his head.
Vail pulled to within five with a try about 10 minutes later, but Aldridge overwhelmed the defense again soon after. He outran no fewer than three players to track down a kick, then alertly passed to a teammate as he was being tackled; Morgan Frothingham finished off the score, and Johnson split the uprights for the conversion.
Rinakama tacked on another try, and the lead ballooned to 33-10 after 40 minutes.
“Once we got that half chance, those guys [on the outside] really took over,” interim Aspen coach Gary Williams said. “They overwrote this victory.”
In an attempt to slow the quick-strike Gents, Vail squibbed the opening kick of the second half. The Blue and White gained possession soon after and produced a try to trim the deficit to 16.
The momentum lasted mere moments. Rinakama answered with a long run, then hit Aldridge in stride for the score.
Later, when Rinakama scooped up a loose ball and dashed up the middle, two Blue and White players in close proximity hardly bothered to give chase.
“You’ve sure got some greyhounds, don’t you?” one Vail fan quipped to an Aspen player on the sideline.
Cedric Grandberry finished off a visibly gassed Blue and White side in the match’s waning moments, when he came away with the ball in a scrum and dove across the try line.
The Gents have outscored Vail and Glenwood 123-33 in two home conference games this month.
“This sure helps with morale,” said Aldridge, who was playing for an Aspen sevens squad that last week failed to qualify for nationals for the first time in the program’s 10-year history.
“We’re trying to bring some vigor back to Aspen. We’re doing everything we can.”
David Stapleton is the development officer for the Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club. A product of the club, AVSC sat down with Stapleton for a Q&A session in this week’s Clubhouse Chronicles.