No doubt: Skiers stun No. 4 Pirates
ASPEN The beaming first-year coach was at a loss for words. The clutch receiver didnt know just how to describe it. The dogged running back was stumped.No matter. In a season full of statement games, Mike Sirko, Cory Parker, Tucker Eason and the stunning Aspen Skiers made their biggest proclamation yet Friday night at home against the No. 4 Olathe Pirates without words. The scoreboard said enough: Aspen 17, Olathe 14. To get its fifth win in six games, Aspens swarming defense forced seven turnovers against one of the states most explosive offenses. None was bigger than a fumble with 3 minutes, 26 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, which set up Brian Westerlinds 28-yard game-winning field goal. For those who werent listening before Friday, the roar that rose from the home sideline when the ball barely cleared the crossbar should carry throughout the Western Slope and as far as Denver. At 5-1 overall, and 4-0 in the 2A Western Slope, the Skiers believe they deserve to be ranked among the top 10 teams in the state. Im speechless, Sirko said. I believe in our kids, and I knew they could it. Cant really explain it, said Parker, the all-state basketball star who kept Aspens hopes alive in the fourth quarter with two huge fourth-down catches one to keep the game-tying drive going, the other in the end zone to knot the score at 14.Its the greatest feeling Ive ever felt in my life. We believe. Its a team game, and we all believe in each other, said Eason, who rumbled for 148 yards and a touchdown on 48 carries. As for Olathe coach Ryan Corn? He was speechless, too. So steamed, in fact, that he twice refused to answer questions near midfield after the game, just yards away from a mob of Skiers players and fans jumping up and down in celebration.
Against a bigger, faster team, Sirko said his game plan was to play mistake-free football on offense, get some big plays from his defense and hope that the game was close late in the second half. Aspen wasnt exactly perfect with the ball, but good enough to stay within a touchdown of Olathe heading into the final quarter. Its defense was more than exceptional. Olathes first turnover a Travis VanDomelen interception of Pirates quarterback Garhett Jurgens put the Skiers in business at their own 31-yard line. From there, Aspen quarterback Anderson Cole handed the ball off to Eason on all but one of 10 snaps. On eight of the runs, Eason didnt find much space to run, often barreling straight into Olathe tacklers and driving his legs to pick up every last inch. On his ninth carry a third and 7 from Olathes 47 Eason shook off one tackler at the line of scrimmage and had it easy from there, going untouched down the left sideline for six. On its ensuing drive, Olathe drove to Aspens 47 before tailback Jesus Suarez was drilled in the backfield by Skiers freshman Taylor Mayer and coughed up the first of his three fumbles. Aspens offense stalled, and following a Westerlind punt, Olathe took advantage, driving 74 yards in eight plays to tie the game at seven with 9:36 to play in the half.On the ensuing possession, Cole fumbled the snap at Aspens 24-yard line, and Olathes Chris Brummitt recovered. A snap later, fullback David Rhodes scored for a second time. Aspen punted again, but forced another fumble this one from Rhodes just before the half, but Sirko opted to run the clock out. Im sure people think we should have been in the two-minute offense, but I just wanted to go into the half down by just a touchdown, he said. The strategy paid off. After a scoreless third quarter, Olathe missed a 37-yard field goal at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Aspen then forced its fifth fumble of the game at its own 39 to halt what could have been a game-clinching drive for Olathe. From there, the Skiers went on a 14-play march to tie the game with 3:31 remaining. Parker reeled in a slant on a fourth and 10 from Olathes 20 to keep the drive alive, setting up Aspen at the 3. After a run and two incomplete passes, the 6-foot-6 senior delivered again, hauling in a 3-yard touchdown pass in front of two Olathe defenders. I didnt even know it was fourth down, Parker said. We just kept going. It was just another play that we played. It was outstanding. The connection Anderson and I had was awesome. Suarezs final fumble then set up Westerlinds game-winner. Olathe got the ball back with just more than half a minute remaining, but Aspens defense again rose to the occasion. VanDomelen drilled Olathe receiver Wesley Byers on a third-down catch, jarring the ball loose, and Aspen recovered, allowing for one more offensive kneel down before pandemonium broke out. We aint got the size, we aint got the experience, but weve definitely got the heart, Westerlind said. Aspen will look to go to 6-1 when it travels to Hotchkiss on Friday at 7 p.m. Nate Petersons e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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