Aspen tops VMS, 4-3 |

Aspen tops VMS, 4-3

Special to the Daily/Paul ConradAspen junior striker Nicky Anastas (11) takes a dive after Vail Mountain defender Max Avery (16) stops his advance on the goal during the first half Saturday Aspen defeated visiting Vail Mountain 4-3.

ASPEN – The Vail Mountain School boys soccer team arrived in Aspen Saturday facing a crucial game to keep playoff hopes alive. The Skiers, despite locking up the second playoff spot in the 3A Western Slope, also saw Saturday’s contest as a must-win. After losing to the Gore Rangers, 2-1, in the team’s first meeting Sept. 27 in East Vail, the Skiers were looking for payback in their Homecoming game.Something had to give.What that something happened to be was three goals and a a game-winning assist from Aspen junior forward Stephen Buzbee in a 4-3 Skiers’ win. Buzbee’s game-winning assist to teammate Ryder Fyrwald came with fewer than five minutes to go in a contentious second half between the two teams.Officiating issuesOnly a minute after Fyrwald’s goal put Aspen ahead, 4-2, the Gore Rangers’ Max Avery netted his second goal of the day on a free kick from about 25 yards out.

Skiers coaches and players were livid with the referees after Avery’s goal, arguing that there had been no whistle to signal the start of play. The goal stood, however, which led to a tense final few minutes of action in injury time. When the final whistle sounded, both teams were still boiling with emotion when they lined up to shake hands. With the win, Aspen improved to 10-4 overall and 7-2 in the 3A Slope. The Gore Rangers still have a shot at the third playoff spot allotted to a Slope team if they can beat hapless Paonia Tuesday and CRMS loses to Roaring Fork.Along with Avery’s first goal, Aspen players also took issue with the first VMS goal from forward Jackson Higgins in the 23rd minute of the first half. The Gore Rangers side was whistled four times in the first half for offsides, and the Skiers felt Higgins was also offsides when he scored. “I was upset by some of the calls, but you can’t blame the refs,” Buzbee said afterward. “You just get caught up in the emotion of the game, and they’re going to make the call. It’s their word and there’s nothing you can do about it.”Gore Rangers coach Bob Bandoni said because the game was so close – and so physical – it was to be expected that every call made by the refs was going to be scrutinized by both teams. Still, the game was decided by the teams on the field, not the guys wearing yellow, Bandoni said.”There were questionable things that happened on the field, but we don’t leave with any bad feelings or anything like that,” the VMS coach said. “I think it was left up to the players. It was a hard-fought game and the team that wins wins.”

Scoring chancesEarly in the first half, the Aspen side was controlling the tempo, but couldn’t convert on a number of scoring chances,When Higgins caught up to a long pass in the 17th minute, he made it count. Aspen goalie Fred Bernard charged on the play, but couldn’t get a hand on Higgins’ shot, which fell just inside the right post. Down 1-0, Aspen continued to pour on the pressure. In the 29th minute, that pressure led to Buzbee’s first goal. VMS goalie Jordy Coffey couldn’t corral a loose ball in the box, and Buzbee knocked it in.Buzbee’s scored his second goal in similar fashion in the 34th minute. Coffey and three VMS defenders were trying to get to a loose ball, but Fyrwald got there first and flicked a pass to Buzbee who did the rest.The equalizer for the Gore Rangers came in the 51st minute. VMS got a free kick following a collision to the right of the goal box, and Avery laced a shot into the top right corner of the Aspen net.Red card

From there, the game was played at a furious pace as both teams fought to break the tie. A pivotal sequence happened in the 70th minute when Vail Mountain’s Blake Armstrong had a breakaway on the right side. Bernard charged out of the box and used his hands to deflect Armstrong’s shot – the result of which was mandatory red card.The miscue means Bernard won’t be available for Tuesday’s season finale between Aspen and Basalt.With Bernard out of the game, Vail Mountain tried to take advantage of a one-man advantage. Buzbee, sensing that the game might be slipping out of his team’s control, decided to take it upon himself to win the game.In the 34th minute he sliced between Higgins and Bobby LeGaye, stumbled, then regained his footing before firing a shot that cleared the inside of the right post by mere inches.Only a minute later, he again freelanced as he drove in toward the VMS net, before being tripped up by Higgins. Fyrwald finished the play, snagging the loose ball from Coffey’s grasp, then putting it in the back of the net.Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is, Daily

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