Skiers end season on hot streak
The 2005 season could not have ended soon enough for Aspen football players and coaches. Things sure changed in one year. The Skiers finished 2006 in impressive fashion, winning two of their final three games. They topped winless Coal Ridge, 34-16, in Friday’s season finale. Aspen (3-6 overall, 3-4) endured a seven-game losing streak in 2005 after a season-opening win at Norwood. In 2006, it tripled its win total and finished fourth in a competitive 3A Western Slope – a measure of justification for the team’s lofty preseason aspirations.”I’m not surprised. I very much expected these guys to do this,” Aspen head coach Travis Benson said Wednesday. “They played their hearts out in every game. We’ve really set something in motion for the coming years.
“We won’t be talking about just winning league games anymore. We will legitimately talk about .500 seasons.”The Skiers finished 3-3 during the season’s most difficult stretch. While it lost to the league’s top three teams – Roaring Fork, Olathe and Gunnison – by a combined score of 127-14, Aspen logged some memorable wins: The Skiers outlasted Cedaredge, 9-6, in the midst of a snowstorm Sept. 22 and impressed a large homecoming crowd with a 24-14 win Oct. 13 over Hotchkiss. And Aspen ran away from Coal Ridge on Friday.Junior Tucker Eason and senior Whit Fuller burned the Titans defense for touchdown runs in the first half as the Skiers took a 14-0 halftime lead. They had the chance to extend their advantage late in the second quarter but had some untimely penalties. Aspen, facing a first-and-20 following a holding call, executed a perfect reverse pass. Senior wideout Matt Beirne, who filled in for injured Harry Maniloff earlier this season at quarterback, took the pitch and fired a pass downfield for a first down. However, yet another holding call negated the play. On fourth-and-10 inside the 30, Benson decided to give sophomore Beau Seguin a shot at a field goal. Seguin came up short.The Skiers came out in the third and “methodically” moved the ball on the Titans, Benson said. After Maniloff connected with Beirne on a 30-yard slant pass, Seguin got loose on an end-around and scampered nearly 60 yards for the score. Eason then found the end zone for a second time.
Maniloff, who injured his throwing shoulder two weeks ago and sat out his team’s game with Gunnison, showed confidence in his arm during the second half, Benson said.”Harry gains more confidence with every game he plays. He was a big part of things, because we were able to keep all our receivers out on the field,” Benson said. “We have our greatest success when we spread the ball out across the field. It makes a world of difference when we loosen people up with the pass.”The defense did not go unnoticed. A unit consisting of both young and tenured players executed a goal-line stand to seal victory in the final game for Aspen’s 13 seniors.Of the four teams that beat the Skiers in conference play, only Basalt failed to earn a postseason berth.”With two weeks to go, our chances for the playoffs were still there,” Benson said. “Considering where we’ve come since last year, the kids should be proud. They played up to expectations.”
Aspen’s finish isn’t the only reason for Benson’s optimism. While they do lose 13 players, only two – Beirne and senior Michael Ufkes – are key skill-position players. Maniloff will return for a senior season, his third at the helm of the Aspen offense. He will again join Eason, fullback Adam Huber and occasionally Seguin in the backfield. The Skiers made great strides in the past year, Benson said. And there’s reason to expect more to come. “This season will prove to be a big building block for our younger guys,” Benson said. “I think we have set something in motion for the coming years.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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