Thriller in Idaho: Skiers top reigning 3A champs |

Thriller in Idaho: Skiers top reigning 3A champs

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Nancy Mayer Special to The Aspen TimesAspen quarterback Rex Christensen takes a moment to relax after Saturday's victory over Shelley (Idaho) High School at Idaho State University in Pocatello.

Saturday’s game had been over for more than 15 minutes when Aspen head coach Mike Sirko picked up the phone. It sounded as though he was still trying to catch his breath.

“What a football game,” the veteran coach uttered. “That was something special.”

The Skiers are turning heads all over this state – and beyond.

In Saturday’s Rocky Mountain Showcase at Idaho State University in Pocatello, Aspen, playing some 575 miles from home, trailed storied Shelley High, 19-7, at halftime.

Sirko’s bunch did not flinch, however. They scored on their opening drive of the second half, added nine more points in the fourth quarter, and Aspen’s “Black Shirt” defense held the Russets scoreless in the final 24 minutes to preserve a thrilling 22-19, come-from-behind victory on the turf inside 12,000-seet Holt Arena.

“With the venue and the excitement, this felt like a playoff game,” Sirko said. “Our kids hung in there and found a way to win. … We played like men, like warriors. … We kept coming and never quit. That’s the sign of a good football team.”

Shelley, playing a de facto home game about 40 miles from its campus, blocked an Aspen punt and returned it for a touchdown in the opening quarter.

The Russets (2-1), the 2009 3A Idaho state champions who made the leap to 4A this fall, scored two more touchdowns in the second to take a commanding 19-point lead.

The Skiers finally broke through in the second, when quarterback Rex Christensen connected with receiver Quinn Morehead on a 58-yard scoring strike, trimming the deficit to 12.

Shelley was on the move again soon after, however, marching down to the Aspen 1-yard line right before the break. The Skiers forced a timely fumble, however, and Nicky Ufkes scooped up the ball and rumbled almost 100 yards the other way for an apparent score; the play was negated by a block-in-the-back penalty.

“Even the referee came over and said that was a poor call,” Sirko said. “A referee’s call doesn’t win or lose a game, though. You have to overcome that stuff.”

The Skiers (2-0), ranked third in The Denver Post’s latest 2A poll, did just that.

Ufkes shook free for a 44-yard touchdown scamper on Aspen’s opening possession of the second half. The senior finished with 134 yards on 28 carries.

Daniel Munger split the uprights on a 36-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, then Christensen and Morehead hooked up through the air once more, giving Aspen its first lead with about four minutes to play.

Morehead hauled in five catches for 108 yards and two scores. In addition, he and Casey Hornburg came up with key interceptions.

In just his second varsity start, Christensen completed 16-of-28 pass attempts for 204 yards. His most memorable snap likely came in the waning seconds, when the Skiers lined up in the victory formation and he kneeled on the turf to run out the clock.

“For us this is a great win,” Sirko said. “We have miles to go before we sleep, but hopefully this can catapult us.”

Another major hurdle awaits Friday at 7 p.m., when Aspen returns home to play Hotchkiss – one of two teams to beat the Skiers during the 2009 regular season.