ASPEN – A halftime lead evaporated in a hurry for the Aspen High School football team after injuries derailed a promising start in Saturday afternoon’s season opener against Bayfield on the AHS turf.
Junior quarterback Tyler Ward took the Skiers into the locker room up a touchdown against the 2017 state champions but didn’t play in the second half because of an apparent shoulder injury, one of many key injuries that helped the Wolverines rally for a 37-20 win.
“When one of the best quarterbacks in the state doesn’t play, things kind of swung in our favor and that’s what happened,” Bayfield coach Gary Heide said. “I can’t say what would’ve happened. I know he’s a great football player and they rally around him. I know how it goes. But I think we would have battled and played real tough the second half and made it a real close game.”
Ranked No. 7 in Class 2A and playing on its new state-of-the-art turf field for the first time, Aspen was looking for revenge against the Wolverines, a team it led 8-7 at halftime a season ago before losing 20-8 in Bayfield. The Skiers’ only points in the 2018 contest came via the defense, but Saturday’s rematch saw the offense move the ball efficiently for much of the first half.
After an initial three-and-out, Ward, who led all of 2A in passing as a sophomore, capped of a scoring drive with a 3-yard touchdown pass to senior Jon Haisfield for an early 8-0 lead. Bayfield did provide a quick answer, scoring on its next possession on a 10-yard run by junior Cade Carlson to make it 8-7.
Aspen extended its lead barely a minute later when Ward found Haisfield yet again, this time on a short connection that Haisfield broke loose for a 72-yard score. The Skiers had the opportunity to go up two scores at the end of the first half, but a dropped pass in the end zone as time expired in the quarter kept the score at 14-7 in favor of AHS going into the halftime break.
That’s when the game started to fall apart for the Skiers.
“The starters were playing well and then the whittling down began a little bit with those guys,” AHS coach Travis Benson said. “That’s the testament of great, great teams is the ones that overcome a couple of those adversity-type moments.”
Ward came out of the locker room not wearing his shoulder pads, meaning Haisfield had to move over from receiver to quarterback. AHS already was playing without its top receiving target, Max Ufkes, and also lost starting running back Jack Seamans during the game. Jonathan Woodrow, their senior do-it-all player, was in and out, as were a handful of others.
“We were determined to be physical,” Heide said. “We don’t have the great skill to win in any type of aerial or great finesse game. We have to be ground game first and then throw second. We did what we needed to do and I’m really proud.”
Bayfield wasted little time getting even in the third quarter, a 16-yard TD run by senior Dawson French making it 14-all barely four minutes into the half. The AHS offense did nothing with its first possession of the quarter and the Wolverines made the most of it by coming back with a 1-yard TD run by sophomore Cael Schaefer to make it 21-14 BHS late in the third quarter.
Haisfield was intercepted by senior Ethan Morris on a short pass late in the third, which Bayfield turned into a field goal early in the fourth to extend its lead to 24-14 with 11 minutes to play.
“There are guys who know what it’s like to play on a state championship team still on the field,” Benson said of a Bayfield team that also went into the 2A playoffs as the No. 1 seed in 2018 before losing in the quarterfinals. “Bayfield is a great football team. They aren’t the same Bayfield as last year, but still, they are well coached and they have a lot of pedigree behind them.”
With the game slipping away, the Skiers received a small miracle when a tipped Haisfield pass fell into the hands of AHS junior Noah Akin, who took it 77 yards for the touchdown to cut the Bayfield lead to 24-20 with 10:06 to play.
The Wolverines quickly shut the door on a comeback, getting a 12-yard TD run by Schaefer about four minutes later to make it 30-20, and it was a pick-6 by BHS freshman Deegan Barnes less than a minute later that put it away.
It was quite the bounce-back win for Bayfield (1-1), which was preseason No. 6 in 2A but dropped out of the top 10 this week after a 42-13 season-opening loss to San Juan (Utah) on Aug. 30. San Juan had already played twice prior to beating Bayfield.
The Wolverines are off next week before playing at New Mexico’s Aztec High School on Sept. 20.
“That was a great performance by both teams. Aspen will rebound,” Heide said. “I know what it feels like. You feel like you’re in mud. Your second (game) you come back. I believe that Aspen will do the same thing, because they got a lot of talent and they got a great coach.”
Aspen (0-1) will enter the week with a lot of uncertainly in terms of player availability. Benson wasn’t sure of the extent of most of the injuries sustained Saturday and who he’d have ready to go next week. Aspen hosts Class 1A Meeker on Friday night, a team that is 2-0 after wins over Hotchkiss (28-7) and Coal Ridge (40-8).
“A lot of adversity that we had to battle through today and couldn’t seem to pull it through, but we saw some people step up into some pretty big roles,” Benson said. “Jonathan Woodrow on all three phases of the game played phenomenal. And Jon Haisfield is the most solid human being I know. He is dedicated to his brothers and he stepped in in a big way. And the O-line, to be quite honest; the O-line played well.”