Rams football rallies past Basalt; Aspen drops finale
CARBONDALE – Over the past few years, the battle for Roaring Fork Valley football bragging rights between Roaring Fork and Basalt hasn’t been much of a fight.Roaring Fork is a perennial playoff team out of the 2A Western Slope League and, prior to this season, Basalt struggled to get into the win column at all.Judging by Friday night’s contest at Roaring Fork High School, however, the rivalry is on. And no longer can the Rams look at it as a guaranteed “W.”With a Roaring Fork playoff berth at stake, the Rams needed 28 second-half points to overcome a 10-point deficit and rally past the upstart Longhorns, 35-27.”That was a blast,” said Roaring Fork coach Tory Jensen. “That’s what it’s supposed to be all about – up, down and sideways.”With the victory, the Rams earn the No. 2 seed in the WSL and their sixth consecutive trip to the postseason.”It’s awesome,” said Roaring Fork senior receiver/defensive back Luke Harris, who had a key interception with 2:33 left in the game. “There’s nothing better than beating your rival in the last game and going to the playoffs.”The Rams played nearly the entire game with their backs to the wall. After trailing by as many as 11 points in the second, Roaring Fork didn’t gain its first lead of the game until the final three minutes of the game.But they made those late minutes count.Down 27-21 with less than six minutes left, Jake Bowman and the Rams offense refused to be denied. Bowman accounted for 57 yards on the 11-play, 90-yard drive, including a key 27-yard burst on fourth-and-5 and the 14-yard touchdown run to even the score at 27-all. The junior finished with a game-high 211 rushing yards and found the end zone three times.But extra-point tries for Roaring Fork have been anything but gimmes this season, and Friday was no different. Quarterback Aaron Markham bobbled the snap on the kick, but recovered quickly to find Parker Nieslanik for a two-point conversion pass for a 29-27 edge.”The only thing different (between Roaring Fork and Basalt) is that we’ve been playing up in competition,” said Jensen, who faced two Class 3A squads this season. “The kids are used to playing tight games against good competition. They know the fourth quarter is going to make or break you.”The tradition of Roaring Fork football came through,” Jensen added. “These kids were not going to break down.”Despite the late score, the Rams needed more heroics to secure the victory.A Roaring Fork personal foul and a nice snag by Kelci Vannice on a Rams’ squib kick gave the Longhorns new life at the Roaring Fork 38 with 2 1/2 minutes left.Harris quickly snuffed out the drive with an interception of Basalt quarterback Cody Burkholder on the next play.”I knew I had to step up. It was the last game under the lights,” Harris said. “That kid wanted it so bad,” Jensen said of Harris. “He epitomizes the tradition thing. Luke flipped a switch and said. ‘We are going to win this game.'”Two plays later Roaring Fork put the game away when Christian Tena scored his second touchdown of the game with a 47-yard burst for the 35-27 final.Although the Rams controlled the final minutes, Basalt looked intent on pulling off the upset through much of the contest.Buoyed by a pair of touchdowns by Clayton Peetz, who finished with 142 rushing yards, the Longhorns carried a 17-7 lead into the intermission, but the situation changed in the second half.The Rams moved 80 yards for the touchdown to set the tone on the opening drive of the second half and cut the lead to 17-13.Basalt answered with an 89-yard Burkholder kickoff return on the ensuing play, but the Longhorns began to show fatigue and couldn’t keep pace with Roaring Fork. Basalt stopped only one Roaring Fork drive in the second half.”It was a heck of an effort by everybody on the team,” Basalt coach Forrest Grosh said. “They gave everything they had.”Neither team could get anything going through the air, in part due to the opposing quarterback. Markham picked off Burkholder twice, and Burkholder returned the favor – twice – when he was on the defensive side of the ball. Markham also saw much more of Longhorn linebacker Connor Meyer than he would have liked. The senior racked up three sacks and seemed to be in the backfield every time Markham dropped back to pass.The Rams (5-1 WSL, 7-2 overall) host Monte Vista Saturday at Roaring Fork High School.Basalt finishes its season at 5-4 overall and 3-3 in WSL, a big step up considering the Longhorns had just four wins in the previous three seasons combined.”I think the biggest stride is that this team knows it can win. There’s a group of winners in that locker room,” Grosh said. “I’m proud to work with these guys. It’s a special group to me and the rest of the coaching staff.”Hotchkiss 28, Aspen 0 Aspen was shutout for a second time this season, losing 28-0 on the road at Hotchkiss Saturday in the Skiers’ season finale.Aspen finishes its season at 2-6 overall and 1-5 in the WSL; Hotchkiss finished the regular season at 6-3 overall and 5-1 in the WSL.Hotchkiss scored two touchdowns on big plays in the first quarter and added another in the second to go up 21-0 at halftime. Hotchkiss scored its fourth and final TD in the final quarter.
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It’s a little odd for a winter sport’s national championship to be held in the summer, but it’s the only time that all four national teams and younger athletes could get together at once. For that reason, the event and the Springer Tournee leading up to it are special to Team USA.