TCA's Titans defeat Aspen's gifted QB and avalanche of penalties

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Photo - TCA junior Cade Bethany (5) drops back to pass in the first quarter. The Titans hosted the Mustangs in boys' football action on Friday, October 28, 2016 at The Classical Academy. Photo by Isaiah J. Downing
TCA junior Cade Bethany (5) drops back to pass in the first quarter. The Titans hosted the Mustangs in boys' football action on Friday, October 28, 2016 at The Classical Academy. Photo by Isaiah J. Downing

A night of chaos.

The Classical Academy roared to 507 yards in offense, but the Titans still had to struggle for a 36-24 victory over Aspen in the 2A football playoffs.

With two minutes left, host TCA was clinging to a 28-24 lead against Aspen and its mega-talented quarterback RJ Peshek. TCA coach Justin Rich, facing a fourth and 10, could have gone for a field goal with his reliable kicker Hayden Cooper.

But Rich took a look across the field and started thinking about leaving Peshek down by only seven points.  Peshek, a senior, had passed and rushed for 46 touchdowns for Aspen’s Skiers this season, including four TDs Friday night.

“It didn’t feel safe,” Rich said. “We kick a field goal, they go down and score a touchdown and a 2-point conversion and we lose.”

During a timeout, Rich called a fake field goal, which was not a complete surprise to Aspen coach Karson Pike. He told his players to watch out for holder/quarterback Cade Bethany.

The warning didn’t work. On the fake, Bethany ran 12 yards to the 2-yard line. Jenson Hall scored from there, finally clinching the win.

The offenses for both teams were humming, but officials slowed down the attacks with flags. TCA was flagged 14 times for 149 yards, and had three touchdowns – including a 79-yard run by Bethany – called back. Aspen was flagged 11 times for 84 yards.

Aspen’s Pike shrugged when he considered all the flags.

Had he ever before participated in a game with 25 penalties?

“I had not,” he said. “That was a little strange and little questionable at times, but you have to work through that stuff and we almost did.”

Rich pointed at the moon when asked about all the calls.

“It’s full,” he said, laughing. “In the playoffs, things get weird. I’m sure Aspen would say the same thing.”

TCA was led by Brayden Luft, who gained 191 yards on 20 carries. Bethany added 103.

“That No. 6 is a hell of a runner,” Pike said of Luft. “And they got those big boys up front. It’s a great scheme. He’s a tough stop.”

Still, despite all of TCA’s offensive output, Aspen put a serious scare into TCA. The Titans took a 21-6 lead with 8:38 left in the third quarter after a 1-yard run by Rhys Ryba, but Peshek and the Skiers declined to go away.

TCA pushed its lead to 28-18 with 7:54 left on a 4-yard run by Hall, but Aspen answered almost instantly when Peshek hit Max Ufkes with a soaring 81-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 28-24 with 7:28 left. It took the fake field goal to finally vanquish Aspen.

Peshek owns a mighty arm, but he’s also dangerous as a runner. He’s stocky and powerful.

Rich laughed.

“That guy,” he said of Peshek, “what a great competitor. Tackling him is like trying to tackle one of those old wooden whiskey barrels.”

TCA improves to 9-1. Aspen ends its season at 8-2.