Ward, Hollander carry Aspen football to a 38-26 season-opening win over Meeker
The Aspen High School football team’s offense is going to be just fine. At least, that is the indication after sophomore quarterback Tyler Ward and senior receiver Noah Hollander lit up the scoreboard in the Skiers’ 38-26 season-opening win Friday at Meeker.
“The whole offense was clicking pretty well. We had some errors that we have to clean up, but Tyler did a great job,” AHS coach Travis Benson said. “The receiving core did a great job. The O-line was doing well. We got to pick up our run game a little bit, but as far as the full offense clicking, we are getting there. The nice part is most of the mistakes they made are easily cleaned up. It’s not something that we can’t take care of.”
Ward, making his first career start, connected with Hollander for five touchdowns against the Cowboys, who entered the season ranked No. 5 in Class 1A. Their first connection came on the first possession of the game and the second on their third possession to help Aspen jump out to a 14-0 lead late in the first quarter.
Meeker scored in the final seconds of the first quarter and again in the final seconds of the second quarter to go to halftime down only 14-12 (both teams went for the 2-point conversion after each score).
“They took advantage of us there for a good chunk,” Benson said. “It was good to see the resiliency in our boys to be able to continue to fight and push through some adversity and get to the win tonight.”
Aspen led 20-12 after Ward found Hollander for a third time midway through the third quarter, but the Cowboys answered with a 69-yard pass and catch on third-and-long to tie the game up at 20 after the 2-point conversion.
The Aspen offense continued to roll from there, with Ward finding Hollander for the fourth time to give the Skiers the lead back at 26-20 with about 90 seconds to play in the third. After the AHS defense forced a punt early in the fourth, junior running back Trey Fabrocini capped a nice drive with a short touchdown run to make it 32-20.
Aspen put the game away with yet another Ward to Hollander score, this coming with six minutes to play and giving the Skiers an 18-point cushion. Meeker quickly got a score back, but never threatened again.
This was Benson’s first game, and win, in his second stint as the AHS head coach. He previously led the team during the 2005 and 2006 seasons.
“It was a good test for us,” Benson said. “It’s always good to be tested early and to be pushed a little bit, and Meeker has a heck of a football team.”
While it gave up a few points, Benson was pleased with the AHS defense, which came up with numerous stops on fourth down throughout the game. They’ll need to show that same grit going forward, as the Skiers next game will be Sept. 8 when they travel to preseason No. 1 and defending 2A state champion Bayfield following next week’s bye. Bayfield opened its season with a 54-13 win over Farmington (N.M.) on Friday.
“They were doing good things and we put ourselves in a bad spot a few times, but for the most part the defense impressed me tonight,” Benson said. “Our boys played physical, which is something you have to look for on defense.”
Note: Aspen was the only one of the six 2A Western Slope League teams to play this week. While AHS is off next week for experiential education, Aug. 31 will mark the start of the season for Basalt (vs. Olathe), Rifle (vs. Eagle Valley), Coal Ridge (vs. Meeker) and Moffat County (vs. Summit). Delta travels to Thornton for its season opener on Sept. 1.
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The Aspen High School girls soccer team looks a lot different from the last time it played, with many new players and a new coaching staff. But winning has become part of the culture, and it’s so far, so good for the Skiers this spring.