Skiers off to Eaton for playoff opener
ASPEN Aspen’s football team will play its first playoff game in 33 years nearly 250 miles from its home field.Considering how far the Skiers have come in just a season, a long bus ride to Eaton to square off against the eighth-seeded Reds should feel like a short trip.”We would have loved a home game, but that’s OK. To get a home game, we’ll just have to win one,” said first-year Skiers coach Mike Sirko, whose team is set to kick off at 1 p.m.. Saturday. “We’re just really excited about the chance to keep playing.”The 2A Western Slope runner-up, Aspen earned the ninth seed in the 16-team 2A bracket after finishing the regular season 7-2 overall and 5-1 in the league. Eaton has one more loss than Aspen at 6-3, but won its league – the 2A Patriot – and has been a perennial playoff team.”For your first year in state in a long time, you pretty much just have to take it where you can,” Sirko said. “They’ve been a prominent playoff team for years, so you understand why they’re seeded higher.”The Skiers will practice Friday morning, then load up on buses for the four-hour-plus drive to their hotel in Loveland – about 30 miles west of Eaton. A small farming and ranching community of about 3,500, Eaton is just 10 miles due north of Greeley and 45 miles south of Cheyenne, Wyo.Sirko said Aspen’s players have embraced the overnight trip as a reward for their surprising turnaround season. The Skiers will eat as a team Friday night at a buffet yet to be named, then take in a game in Greeley between 4A Greeley and Broomfield.”It’s something they’ve never experienced before,” Sirko said of the trip. “We’ll be going there for business, but it’s a great opportunity to build a little camaraderie. I’m looking for some good bonding and for us to have some fun.”To earn a pass to the quarterfinals and a likely home game against the 2A’s best team, top-seeded and unbeaten Faith Christian, Aspen will have to contain Eaton’s best player, 6-foot-7 quarterback Seth Lobato. The junior has thrown for 1,260 yards this season and 11 touchdowns and run for another 242 and two touchdowns. Lobato has been held to less than 100 yards passing in just two games this season – one of those a loss to 3A Florence.”Kind of how he goes is how the team goes,” Sirko said. “We exchanged film with them, and feel we’ve got a pretty good scout on them. He’s thrown for a lot of yards, but they also run the option pretty well. They’re still more of a run-first, pass-second team, but they can pass when they need to.”Sirko said his team’s offense needs to protect and sustain long drives to have a chance to win.”They key, more than anything, is just to be able to control the football,” he said. “If we don’t control the football, we’re in trouble. If you keep giving [Lobato] a lot of reps, that’s going to give us a long day defensively.”While his players have never been in the postseason, Sirko has a wealth of playoff experience from 32 seasons patrolling high school sidelines. He’s won 192 games in that time, including a 4A title at Rampart.He said he’ll have his players ready for their best game of the season when 1 p.m. Saturday rolls around.”At this point, you don’t change much,” he said. “You know what kind of football team your are and what you need to do to win. For the kids, they want to prove they belong. That’s sort of the battle cry: It’s ‘Let’s go out and prove we belong here.'”Nate Peterson’s e-mail is email@example.com.
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