KMTS Football: BEARS BATTLE, BUT BOW OUT AT STATE

COLORADO SPRINGS (11/13/15) – A pick-six, a flag, and a halfback pass proved too much for the Rifle Bears to overcome in losing their first-round state 3A playoff game to Discovery Canyon, 43-20 on a frigid Friday the 13th at Academy Stadium in Colorado Springs.

The Bears were unlucky even before their game was switched from Saturday afternoon to Friday. Despite a head-to-head win over third-place Palisade that locked up second place in the Western Slope League behind Delta, Rifle was seeded 9th in the state playoffs. Because of the “logic” of CHSAA’s wild-card point system, the Bears went on the road for the first round while Palisade got to play at home.

The number 8 Thunder scored on its first play after a Rifle 4th-down try came up a yard short on a 69-yard touchdown run by Colt O’Connell as he broke loose down the right sideline. Behind 14-0 in the first quarter after DC put together a 6-play, 76-yard drive capped by Josh Tomjack’s 16 yard TD, Rifle got within seven on the strength of Blaine Vance’s 45-yard run and another 16-yard blast up the middle that set up Ty Leyba’s 7-yard touchdown a minute into the second quarter.

DC restored its 14-point lead with a 12-play, 80 yard drive that consumed 5:45, converting a 4th-and-1 on its 48 from quarterback Matthew Call, who replicated that play to score from the one for a 21-7 advantage with 5:10 left in the half.

The first of the negative trifecta followed four first-downs by the Bears and came on the 13th play of their answering drive. Facing 2nd-and-7 at the Thunder 21, Brandon Storch intercepted Ethan Strouse at the 15, eluded a couple of pursuers with a side-step at midfield and completed an 85-yard touchdown return for a 29-7 halftime lead after the two-point conversion run.

DC placekicker Max Smith, who was booting field goals from beyond the 40-yard line by himself at halftime, missed wide right from 36 on the Thunder’s opening third-quarter possession. Rifle showed its resiliency, driving 80 yards in 16 plays – all on the ground, with Vance punching in from the 4. Eduardo Ruiz’ extra point cut the margin to 29-14 with 3:13 on the clock, then successfully executed an onside kick recovered by Rifle at the DC 39.

Strouse offset the pick-six before halftime with a touchdown throw that Tyler Bosshardt hauled in on the next play, but the extra point kick was too low, leaving Rifle still down by two scores, 29-20 with 3:03 remaining in the quarter.

The momentum remained with the Bears after Call hobbled off, and Bosshardt intercepted back-up QB Tyler McFarland near midfield. First down runs by Ty Leyba and Strouse had Rifle at the Thunder 27, when Vance broke up the middle for an apparent touchdown with 24 seconds left in the period. Cutting off the celebration onfield and by a good-sized Bear cheering section, a yellow flag lay just outside the 20 yard line.

Vance tried the middle on the next three plays but could gain just 4 yards, and Strouse’s 4th down throw was beyond Leyba’s diving layout. There still remained nearly 11 minutes to go, and the Bear defense, with the help of the first two penalties on the Thunder in the game, had DC facing a third-and-15 at midfield. Call pitched the ball to O’Connell, who executed a perfectly thrown 50-yard TD pass to Tomjack, effectively ending the contest with 7 minutes left, and the Bears now trailing 36-20.

The Thunder tacked on a one-play, 27-yard score by Call after a 4th down desperation pass by Strouse failed from that spot.

Vance, a junior, led all rushers with 206 yards on 28 carries, though Call, Tomjack, and O’Connell all topped 100 yards for DC. Rifle finishes its season at 9-2, and will again move down to 2A next season due to enrollment under the cutoff mark. Discovery Canyon (7-4) won its seventh straight after opening the season with 4 losses, including 47-36 to its next probable opponent, defending state champion Pueblo East.