RIFLE (11/4/11) — â€œFirst there was a game, then there was no contest, then there was…â€ to paraphrase an old Donovan song from the sixties. The Rifle Bears, on their way to the second undefeated regular season in school history, scored seventeen straight points to close the first half with a 26-7 lead, but would have to earn that distinction as Glenwood Springs fought back in the second half before ending its season with a 32-27 loss.
The week before, the Bears (10-0, 7-0 WSL), ranked third in the CHSAA playoff wild-card system, held off a similar late charge by Palisade, 36-33, to claim their first post-season spot since 2007, the last year Damon Wells coached the team before returning this season. The victory over Glenwood (5-5, 4-3) also halted a four-year losing streak in the rivalry that has been somewhat diminished by the birth of Coal Ridge High School in Rifle\'s own district.
In an unusual twist of fortune, the Demons faced the same slim playoff hopes Rifle did going into last year\'s final regular-season game. Glenwood, ranked 20th in wild-card standings, needed to beat Rifle and hope the four teams ahead of them across the state all lost. Neither happened, so Glenwood is out of the playoffs for the first time in the last four years.
Rifle put its stamp on the game early when Ryan Moeller got to the left sideline and outran all pursuit for a 47-yard touchdown just three minutes into the first quarter. The extra point attempt was wide, but Marco Gutierrez redeemed himself two minutes into the second period when he boomed a 35-yard field goal to cap a 92-yard scoring drive, putting the Bears in front 9-0. The key play in that series was Taylor Webb taking a pass over the middle from Adam Rice at about the Bear 30 and turning it into a 76 yard gain.
Glenwood, which had managed just 23 yards and one first down in the first period, put four first downs together including competions from Travis Lundin of 24 yards to Austin Tribble and 32 yards on a swing pass to Henry Hill, and closed to within two points on a one yard TD by Lundin and Zach Thomas\'s extra point kick with 7:01 left in the half.
Rifle answered with a heavy dose of Moeller, who capped a sustained drive with a one-yard score and the Bears padded their lead to 16-7 at the 6:21 mark. Moments later, Webb intercepted Lundin and what looked like a botched reverse when Moeller ran into a pile of Bears on the left side, turned golden as Aaron Wagler came out of the pack streaking for the right sideline to complete a 29-yard touchdown run. With the point after, Rifle suddenly led 23-7 with 6:01 to play in the quarter.
Lundin was sacked on consecutive plays and Rifle, using the clock well, added a 32-yard Gutierrez field goal just as time expired at the half for a seemingly insurmountable 26-7 lead.
Though missing the one-two ground punch of Lundin and Hill, which had accounted for nearly 800 yards and 12 touchdowns in the Demons\' four-game winning streak, Glenwood came back on the right arm of their sophomore QB as Lundin connected with Mills for 31 yards and Avery for a 19-yard scoring strike to cut the score to 26-14 with 3:33 left in the third quarter. Then came a crucial test for the Rifle defense. Glenwood recovered Thomas\'s onside kick at their own 45, but the Bears held and forced a punt, taking some of the steam out of the Demon recovery.
When Hill completed a rare halfback pass for a 79-yard touchdown to Tribble early in the fourth quarter to draw Glenwood within five points with 10:35 left in the game, it was the Rifle offense\'s turn to respond. With Moeller battering at the center of the Demon defense, the Bears used more than eight minutes to cement the victory when Brandon Kittle scored from the five on a fourth-down run with 2:19 to play.
Hill and Lundin showed Demon fans one more preview what they have to look forward to in the next two years when they hooked up on a 74-yard scoring pass with 30 seconds remaining, but AJ Cordova recovered the ensuing onside kick to begin Rifle\'s celebration.
Rice, who attempted just one pass in the second half, but kept the Demon defense guessing with timely completions as Rifle built its first half margin, completed 4-of-6 for 121 yards. Moeller piled up 242 yards on 41 carries, going over 2,200 yards for the season.
Lundin assembled some remarkable stats of his own in just over four games as quarterback for the Demons. With his 18-of-23, for 261 yards against the Bears, the sophomore has completed 73 per cent of his passes for 1,062 yards and ten touchdowns. Hill, also a sophomore, concluded his first season as a running back with 63 yards on 10 carries, putting him seven yards over the 1,000 milestone to go with 11 touchdowns.
Mills and Avery, two of 16 Demon seniors playing their last game in red-and-white, combined for 10 catches and 106 yards, capping break-out years as the two had a combined 22 receptions last season. Avery caught 33 passes for 446 yards, Mills 28 for 334 and each scored five touchdowns. Junior Austin Tribble grabbed six passes for 128 yards in the game and finishes as the Demons\' leading receiver with 35 catches for 438 yards on the season.
For the Bears, the season continues. Their opponent will be announced Sunday afternoon on the CHSAA website. As one of seven 3A conference winners, Rifle will host a playoff game, probably at 1 p.m. next Saturday. If the wild-card standings remain as they were going into Friday\'s game, the Bears would meet Frederick, the second place team in the Tri-Valley League, but a 40-0 loss to league champ Windsor will probably drop the 7-3 Warriors into the 14th spot opposite number-three Rifle, changing places with Lewis Palmer (8-2), which beat Classical Academy 42-21 Friday.
The seven league champions who will receive first round home games include:
#1 Kennedy (10-0) Metro North
#2 Canon City (10-0) South Central
#3 Rifle (10-0) Western Slope
#4 Silver Creek (9-1) Northern
#6 Windsor (9-1) Tri-Valley
#8 Vista Ridge (9-1) Southern
#14 Evergreen (9-1) Metro South
#5 Battle Mountain (9-1), which blasted Eagle Valley 54-0 Friday, is the top-rated wild-card team that did not win its league, and will receive the final first-round home game.
The rest of the 16 playoff teams, based on wild-card standings going into Friday\'s games were:
#7 D\'Evelyn (8-2)
#9 Roosevelt (8-2), lost 36-14 to #4 Silver Creek, so may drop
#10 Palisade (8-2) won 49-14 at Delta
#11 Holy Family (8-2)
#12 Frederick (7-3) lost 40-0 to Windsor
#13 Lewis Palmer (8-2) won 42-21 vs. Classical Academy
#15 Harrison (7-3) lost 32-21 to Vista Ridge, so may drop
#16 Palmer Ridge (7-3) won 28-21 vs. Pueblo East
To make the playoffs, #20 Glenwood needed a loss by one of the bottom 16 teams (#15 Harrison did lose) and the three teams just ahead of it in the wild card standings. Two cooperated (#17 Conifer lost 14-9 to Evergreen and #18 Puebelo Centennial lost 49-41 to Canon City), but #19 Mountain View (7-3) won 43-7 vs. Eire and may take the last spot Glenwood was hoping to get with a win at Rifle.