Basalt gridders ready to air it out this fall
BASALT – The line is holding its blocks, the secondary has bitten on the fake handoff, and now all Tucker Hinchcliffe has to do is hit his man.Hinchcliffe rolls out, plants his feet, then launches a tight spiral 35 yards downfield. His senior teammate Rory Johnson runs under the ball in the corner of the end zone, then outjumps a defender to make the catch.Six points. Just like it was drawn up.Hinchcliffe and the Longhorns hope it’s that easy this fall, under the lights, and with real defensive linemen instead of propped-up trash cans.Last year, with slippery Ben Pollock in the backfield, Basalt was a running football team – and a good one at that. This year, the ‘Horns are striving to be more balanced in hopes of earning one of three playoff spots from the 2A Western Slope. The Longhorns finished the season 3-6, capped by a humiliating 46-7 defeat to downvalley rival Roaring Fork.To get above .500 and make a run at the playoffs, head coach Forrest Grosh has been stressing the importance of the passing game to his team as it prepares for Friday’s opener against Meeker.”That’s part of the game we’re really trying to improve on just to give ourselves different options in games,” he said. “Come the third quarter, come the fourth quarter, just in different situations, we need to pass the ball and be effective. Our goal is the playoffs. That’s what we’re fighting for every year, and to get there we’ve got to have a passing attack.”Hinchcliffe, a senior, has weapons to work with, most notably Johnson, a big playmaker whose 17.6 yards per catch average led the team last fall. Chris Fitzpatrick, another senior who caught seven balls for 96 yards last year, will start at the other receiver spot. Juniors Ryan Gawrys and Andy Mayer will also figure into the mix, as will sophomore tight end Cody Kosinksi.Hinchcliffe played quarterback all through pee-wee football and middle school, but arm injuries moved him to running back at the start of his high school playing days.He said his arm feels great now, and that he feels confident about his team’s chances with him under center.”I think I still need some work,” he said. “I’m still feeling a little rusty right now, but I think if we just keep practicing, that it will eventually get a lot better.”Even with the emphasis on the passing game, Grosh still believes a powerful running game is the primary key to his team’s success. Two seniors – Colin Matheny and Tony DiBacco – are expected to share the load in the backfield. Both have different running styles and should complement each other. Clearing the way up front will be senior tackle Pat Redfern and senior guard Wylie Chenoweth, who both are also expected to start on the defensive line.”I have a feeling that we’re going to be able to continue the tradition of having a great running attack,” Grosh said. “The last three years we’ve had 1,000-yard rushers each year, and I think with the way our system works we should be able to do that again this season.”Including Redfern and Chenoweth, Basalt will play a number of its starters on both offense and defense. Junior fullback Willie Kline will start at linebacker and Fitzgerald (corner) and Johnson (free safety) will anchor the secondary.Hopefully, if everyone stays healthy, the Longhorns will have a shot at the playoffs, Grosh said.”Our biggest game right now is Meeker,” Grosh said. “Obviously, everyone in our league is a big game to us. To win the league, we’ve got to take care of business in the Western Slope. There are some powerhouses there. Roaring Fork has been there before and they’re going to be a team to beat. They’ve got a winning tradition and we’re ready to start taking that from them.”Added Hinchcliffe: “For the seniors, I think our biggest goal is just to beat Roaring Fork. All of our lives, they’ve always been our big rival. There have been a lot of close games and stuff, so we’re hoping the final varsity season of our senior year, we can finally take it from them on their field.”
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