PEACH VALLEY (9/29/17) – In a spectacular first quarter that resembled video-game football, five of the first six possessions in the Aspen-Coal Ridge Western Slope League opener ended in touchdowns. But it was defense that decided the outcome in a scoreless fourth period when Aspen twice stopped Coal Ridge’s punishing ground game inside the five yard line to hold on for a 34-28 win, deflating the Titans’ homecoming celebration.
Defense made a brief appearance in the initial quarter when, following two long scoring drives where the teams exhibited their respective strengths, the Titans’ Raul Ramirez returned an interception from RJ Peshek, the league’s leading passer, 31-yards for a TD and a 14-8 lead.
After the only punt of the game, Jan Hernandez put Coal Ridge up 21-8 with a 75-yard lightning strike on the next play with 1:48 left in the first quarter, followed by Noah Hollander’s 85 yard touchdown on the kickoff return. Peshek, who is also the WSL’s second-leading rusher behind the Titans’ Jacx Power, ran in the extra points trimming the home team’s lead to 21-16 going into the second quarter.
Peshek, who had topped 1,000 yards in the air before adding 265 vs Coal Ridge, passed for 71 of Aspen’s opening 75-yard drive, including a 17-yard TD strike to Max Ufkes, preceding the two-point conversion pass to Trey Fabroccini. The Titans, averaging 366 yards rushing per contest, answered by completing a 74 yard drive, all on the ground, including a 27-yard run by Hernandez that set up Power’s 3-yard score.
Those two drives were merely the opening act in the first quarter, and in the second period the Skiers took advantage of a failed fourth-down pass by Coal Ridge, taking over at the Titan 48.
Peshek found Ufkes on a slant for 35 yards, then ran the ball in from the 13 on the next play, giving Aspen a 22-21 lead with 10:22 left in the half. A large dose of offensive futility followed.
After gaining 150 yards on 14 carries in the first period, the Titan run game slowed, and Oscar Salazar passed for 8 yards and a first down to Ramirez before throwing an interception to Cam Seltzer at the Aspen ten yard line.
The Skiers fumbled away that possession just past midfield, followed by a Coal Ridge fourth-down, fake punt pass that was intercepted by Fabroccini. Pershek went to Ufkes on the slant again for 24 yards to the CRHS 28, but a sack by the Titans’ Charles Spell and pass break up by Ramirez halted Aspen on downs to keep the Skiers lead at one through the homecoming halftime festivities.
Peshek turned the tables on Coal Ridge in the third quarter, rushing for 50 of Aspen’s 58-yard scoring drive to pad the margin to 28-21, missing on the extra point pass with 7:36 to go in the third.
Coal Ridge likewise went away from its strength. After Kolby Lord returned a squib kickoff to the Skier 48, Salazar connected with Power for a 22 yard pass to the 16, then again for a TD from the 12. Salazar’s extra point kick drew the Titans even at 28 with 4:32 left in the quarter.
Aspen and Peshek responded immediately, once again completing the slant to an uncovered Ufkes for 29 yards to the Titan 21, then down the sideline for an 18-yard connection with Hollander to the three. Peshek bulled in for his third rushing TD and the final score of the game with 3:03 to play in the third period.
With Aspen having slowed down the Coal Ridge run game, the Titans mixed in a newly-discovered pass attack with a reduced rushing attack, Coal Ridge began a 16-play drive that found the Titans with a 2nd-and-five at the Aspen 33 to open the final period.
Salazar, who was just five-for-eleven in the first four Titan games, completed his fourth pass of the drive, for 12 yards to Brady Sasko. Michael Frederickson, with only one carry to that point, ran 13 yards for first-and-goal at the Skier eight. Two more attempts by Fredrickson, an incomplete pass, and Salazar’s fourth down keeper ended at the two-yard line with 10:14 left in the game.
Aspen, with Peshek alternating between slants to Ufkes and sideline passes to Hollander, picked up four first-downs before a holding penalty and subsequent unsportsmanlike flag halted the 13-play, four-minute drive, forcing a quick kick on fourth down that was pooched out of bounds at the Titan 45.
Given a second chance at a game-winning drive, Salazar scrambled for 25 yards to the Skier 27, but suffered a six-yard loss on the next play. Facing fourth-and-ten, Coal Ridge took its final time out with 4:07 to go. Salazar rolled right and dumped a short pass to Power for 15 yards and a first down at the twelve. Power plunged into the Aspen interior three times, gaining seven yards to the five. Salazar tried a quick-count sneak on 4th-and-three but the Skiers held, with Peshek kneeling down to run out the clock.
Hernandez, who had gained 127 yards on 5 first-quarter dashes, was held to just 25 in ten subsequent attempts, finishing with a game-leading 152 yards. Power had 121 yards in 31 rushes, giving Coal Ridge 301 yards on 58 carries. Salazar was 6-of-13 passing for 91 yards, surpassing his season total of 83.
Peshek completed 22-of-35 for 265 yards and ran 17 times for 76 yards. Hollander caught 11 passes for 98 yards with Ufkes netting 125 yards on six receptions.
The win keeps Aspen (5-0, 1-0) undefeated on the season, handing Coal Ridge (3-2, 0-1) its second loss.