The Summit High School varsity football team reeled off 31 unanswered points Friday night, Sept. 10, to seize control of a hard-fought 37-20 mountain town versus mountain town victory over the Aspen Skiers.
At home under the Friday night lights at Tiger Stadium, the Tigers (2-1) forced several first-half Skiers turnovers, including a fumble-recovery by senior star Aidan Collins and a stellar fingertip interception by junior Jac Crowe — who suited up for his first game of the season. The defense clamped down on a dynamic Aspen (1-1) spread attack and relented just one touchdown in a competitive first half.
“It was a chess match,” Tigers head coach James Wagner said. “It was really fun as a coach. They are trying to get out of certain plays because we are lined up in certain coverages. We were each checking into something else.”
After the Skiers scored the first touchdown on an explosive running play, the Tigers upped the ante with a sudden special team surge from their senior star. With 2:23 left in the first quarter, All-State candidate Aidan Collins took a 90-yard kickoff return to the house, showcasing an ability to build and maintain 100-meter track speed after a decisive cut and run through the splintered teeth of the Skiers coverage unit.
“I’m telling you, whenever you get the ball in his hands you don’t know what’s going to happen,” Wagner said. “… he’s just got a mentality he’s not going to let stuff go wrong. And when he gets the ball in his hands he’s looking to score.”
Collins special teams jolt paired with stout Tigers defense to help a maturing Summit offense settle into a balanced — and potent — attack. In the first half, the Tigers defense relented 89 yards through the air and 43 on the ground.
With Tigers starting senior captain center Graham Kalaf out due to concussion protocol, Tigers senior Jake Boyle moved over to center to lead the Summit offensive line. Though the Skiers got some pass-rush pressure to the Tigers quarterback Schierholz early in the game, Summit’s offensive line blocked well enough on long drives all night to give Schierholz and the Summit rushing attack opportunities to make plays — and milk time off the clock.
“Really, when we needed them the most they were there for us,” Schierholz said.
Schierholz completed 10-of-19 passes and threw for 148 yards in a first half where the Tigers took a 13-7 lead. Summit jumped ahead for the lead they wouldn’t relinquish on a 2-yard touchdown plunge by senior Alex Sanchez early in the second quarter.
Sanchez totaled 99 yards and two touchdowns on the ground on 17 carries as Summit offensive coordinator Sean Mase threw a wrinkle into their gameplan by pairing Sanchez with Collins in the Tigers backfield. With Schierholz under center in an old-school I-formation, Sanchez rushed and blocked from the fullback position while Collins churned and burned for 119 yards, two second-half rushing touchdowns of his own, on 16 carries.
For Sanchez, who was not with the team in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, getting his starting running back spot mean the world.
“I’m just grinding that ball and, tonight, I just kept running,” Sanchez said. “I was finding that hole, waiting for the play to develop, really trusting my offensive line. Just downhill, collision after collision, I’m down for it. I love contact.”
The Tigers tacked on two touchdowns to roll into halftime with a 25-7 lead. The strikes came from brothers Ben and Zach Elam, as the younger sophomore Ben Elam plunged in on the goal line. Zach Elam avenged an early-game fumble by snagging a highlight-reel 36-yard bomb from a scrambling Schierholz as the halftime buzzer sounded.
Schierholz finished with just under 200 yards passing on 15-of-28 passing while Collins added six catches for 92 yards receiving — and a game-sealing interception on defense — while fellow senior wide receiver Phil Berezinski five crucial catches for 50 yards, too.
With Collins’ two, second-half rushing touchdowns, the Tigers showcased even without the leader of their offensive line they could pound the rock and execute balanced offense against a solid, similar mountain team. They’ll look to do the same with this veteran-laden team next Saturday, Sept. 18, and go to 3-0, against John F. Kennedy (1-2) at All City Stadium in Denver. For that 2 p.m. tilt, Summit expects Kalaf back from the head injury and senior inside linebacker Jackson Segal from sickness.
“When juniors and seniors are on the field their leadership is a presence,” Wagner said, “and you can do a lot of things, especially when the offensive line is solid all the way through.”