One score from last season stands out more than the rest, and it was Aspen High School football’s 20-19 win at Rifle. The Bears still won the Class 2A Western Slope League, while AHS finished fourth, but that loss kept Rifle from a perfect regular season in 2018.
It took a masterful defensive performance and maybe a bit of luck for the Skiers to pull the upset last fall, a script they hope to repeat when No. 1 Rifle visits the AHS turf on Friday night for a 7 p.m. league game.
“Our defense played really well last year. We gave up runs, but we didn’t break. We were able to dig our heels into the ground on our side of the 50 and were able to make plays,” AHS coach Travis Benson recalled of last year’s game in Rifle. “On the other side of the ball, we made plays literally when we had to. And those were the only plays we maybe made on the whole night, but when we had to make them our kids came through and made plays.”
Aspen (3-3, 1-1 WSL) probably needs to beat Rifle (6-0, 2-0) to realistically remain in the postseason race. The Skiers’ RPI is No. 18 this week, with only 16 teams making the 2A state tournament. Rifle is No. 4 in RPI and No. 1 in the coaches/media poll through CHSAANow.com. Last week the Bears hosted then-No. 2 Delta, winning 47-29 in a somewhat surprising score.
“Rifle is the top of the state. There is no question,” Benson said. “They play very disciplined football. It comes from coaches that are very experienced and they don’t make mistakes. You better play your best football when you play Rifle.”
Rifle graduated Tanner Vines from its 2018 squad. The star running back rushed for 2,230 yards and 21 touchdowns as a senior and now plays for Colorado Mesa University, which is Benson’s alma mater. However, Rifle did return Levin Warfel, who already has 1,006 yards rushing and 14 scores on the ground. Senior quarterback Holden Stutsman has only thrown 27 passes this season, but does have seven TDs without an interception.
“They are a strong enough program that they can refill and replace, there is no question about it. But Tanner was also pretty special,” Benson said. “Rifle is just so well-coached that they’ve played in a lot of big games and they handle that pressure really well and they stay to what they do really well.”
Rifle has outscored its opponents 251-68 this season, including a 44-0 win over Coal Ridge in its WSL opener on Oct. 4. Aspen is coming off a 28-0 win at Moffat County, which it needed after losing 27-14 to Delta in its WSL opener. The AHS defense has really stood out in recent weeks, allowing only a combined 20 points over its past four games with two shutouts.
The Skiers will likely need another warrior-like performance Friday to have a shot against the Bears.
“It’s giving warrior effort and playing with a warrior attitude from the first snap to the last,” Benson said of playing good defense. “Right now I would say probably the better side of the ball and the best group is the D-line and our linebackers and their ability to stop the run.”
Basalt heads to Delta on Friday
The Basalt High School football team has been impressive en route to a 6-0 overall record and 2-0 start in WSL play. However, some could argue the Longhorns have barely been tested, something that will change Friday night when BHS travels to Delta.
“Super proud of the kids on where we are at right now, 6-0, where they control their destiny,” Basalt coach Carl Frerichs said. “We’ve, in all honesty, probably been more focused this week than we have in the last couple of weeks because we realize what is going on this Friday and who Delta is.”
Delta (5-1, 1-1) dropped from No. 2 to No. 5 in the media/coaches poll this week after their loss to Rifle a week ago. Basalt held steady at No. 7. In the all-important RPI, which determines postseason seeding, Basalt is No. 3, one spot ahead of Rifle, while Delta is No. 10.
The Longhorns are hardly seeking validation, but nonetheless a win over Delta could give them just that.
“If we win it’s definitely going to show all the other teams that we are legit,” Basalt senior center Daniel Sherry said. “It’s definitely going to be a hard game. We are definitely going to have to fight for it. But I’m excited to finally have to battle for it.”
Basalt is 2-0 in WSL play after wins over Moffat County (49-7) and Coal Ridge (34-0) the past two weeks. Last week’s game against the Titans was scoreless until late in the first half when two touchdowns in six seconds helped spark the Longhorns, who lacked intensity early in that contest.
The players see that as a bit of a wake-up call with the competition stepping up a notch this week.
“Most of our team knew they were 1-4 so when we came out at the start of the game we kind of played like they were 1-4 and we didn’t really bring it,” BHS senior receiver Jackson Rapaport said. “It took us a couple of quarters to wake up and get in the roll of things.”
Delta likely will come with plenty of energy as well after last week’s disappointing loss to Rifle. Should Basalt and Rifle both win Friday, it would set up a de facto WSL championship game next week when the Bears visit the Longhorns. Aspen and Delta, however, could still have plenty to say if they come away with wins.
“We are all ready for the game. We are all going to be hyped up before,” Sherry said of facing Delta. “I feel like last game just wasn’t what Basalt really looks like. But this week so far have been really good practices and I think we are pretty ready for Delta.”
Basalt beat Delta last season, winning 13-0. BHS also beat Delta in 2017, although the Panthers weren’t in the 2A WSL that season.