GLENWOOD SPRINGS(10/24/14)– Because the Rifle Bears averaged nearly 300 yards per game in earning a share of the top spot in the Western Slope League with Glenwood Springs and Palisade, the Demon defenders were understandably focused on stopping the run in their showdown at Stubler Memorial Friday night. But it was a pair of arching 60-yard passes by senior quarterback Layton Stutsman that provided the ultimate difference in the Bears’ 20-13 win.
The first came on the third play of the game as Stutsman found Ty Leyba yards beyond the deepest Demon defender where the junior speedster hauled in the perfectly thrown pass in stride near midfield and completed a 66 yard touchdown. Eduardo Sandoval’s point after kick was wide, but the Bears had grabbed early momentum and a 6-0 lead just a minute into the contest.
Stutsman had 13 scoring passes versus just one interception in the Bears’ (8-1, 5-1 WSL) first eight games, so his passing prowess shouldn’t have surprised Glenwood, yet on the first play following a Demon fumble at the Bear 15, Stutsman again hit a receiver beyond the Glenwood secondary, but Tyler Bosshardt couldn’t hold on to what would’ve been an 85-yard TD pass. That drive ended in a rare turnover exchange as the teams, which had each lost just three fumbles all season, both had first-down receptions ripped free.
After Matt Osier recovered the fumble, Glenwood went 3-and-out, but soon took the lead when Zane Lundin intercepted Stutsman at the Bear 34 and sailed into the end zone. Robert Hiles’ kick made it 7-6 Demons just 10 seconds into the second quarter. Lundin had a nice break up of another deep pass, and Hiles sacked Stutsman as the Bears continued to try the airways.
The teams exchanged punts, only the fourth of the season for Rifle, and the Bears took possession at their own 20, with 6:55 left until halftime. On a 3rd-and-5, Stutsman connected with Bosshardt for 21 yards, and in only his third carry of the game, Rifle’s leading rusher Brock Clark converted a 3rd-and-1 to the Glenwood 42. Sophomore Blaine Vance, whose previous season-high in attempts was ten, went 6 yards for another first down on his 13th carry of the first half. An encroachment call on the Demon defense yielded another first down, but two tries by Vance and another by Stutsman left the Bears with 4th and 3 at the Glenwood 10 yard line. Following a time out with one second remaining, Sandoval’s 27-yard field goal try was wide left, so the Demons maintained their one-point lead at halftime.
The Bears had run 28 plays and used nearly 13 minutes in two first-half drives that failed to produce points, but they would again surprise Glenwood in the third quarter, first with a pop-up kick recovery at the Demon 34 to open the second half. Rifle reverted to its punishing ground game, with Clark and Vance carrying four times each, setting up Clark’s three-yard run for a 12-7 lead with 7:31 remaining. The quarterback’s two-point conversion run was halted short by Austin Gonsalves.
This time, Glenwood was ready for the pop-up pooch kickoff with Jake Gentry calling for a fair catch, and the Demons put together their only scoring drive of the game, going 69 yards in six plays for a 13-12 lead on a 3-yard run by Luke Prosence with 5:06 to go in the quarter. Dante Sparaco, who connected with Lundin for 30 yards and Gentry for 22 in the drive, had his two-point conversion pass knocked down by Austin Boone.
Following Hiles’ touchback on the kickoff, Stutsman again caught the Demon secondary up in run-support, finding Bosshardt for a 68 yard pass to the 12-yard line. From there, Clark picked up 11 around the right side, and after Hiles and Gonsalves stopped Clark’s next attempt for no gain, Stutsman snuck in for what would prove to be the winning touchdown. Stutsman’s pass to Bosshardt provided the game’s final points.
But there was much drama to follow as Glenwood responded with a ten-play drive featuring a Sparaco-to-Procense 16-yard screen pass and another first when Prosence converted a 4th-and-1 to Rifle’s 35. Takoda Chaney chased down Sparaco for a loss on 2nd down, and Austin Shephard did the same on the next play, bringing up 4th-and-10 as the quarter ended.
After the break, Glenwood decided to punt, and Chase Nieslanik’s kick rolled into the end zone. On third down, Stutsman had Leyba open downfield but he couldn’t hang on to the deep pass, and Rifle, which had punted just 4 times in its first 8 games, booted the ball out of bounds on the Glenwood 36.
With 10:18 remaining, Glenwood began what promised to be a game-winning drive, as Sparaco passed for first downs to Nieslanik, and twice to Gentry, the last for 12 yards to the Rifle 25. Evrett Marr, who was fifth in league rushing until a shoulder injury limited his play last week and had only three carries in the game to this point, matched that to the 16, where his fumble was recovered by Glenwood.
With Sparaco moving under center for the first time this season, facing 4th and one with just over 5 minutes remaining, a bizarre double penalty resulted in a replay.
This time the Demon sophomore moved back into the shotgun and was stopped short, turning the ball over to the Bears.
Clark, now firmly reinserted into the game plan, went 53 yards around left end to the Demon 32, then with 2:38 remaining, gained 6 yards on 4th-and-2 to seal the victory for the Bears, who ran out the clock.
Despite having just 10 yards in three attempts at halftime, Clark led all rushers with 110 in 13 carries, and Vance added 103 on 11 tries. Glenwood managed just 56 yards on the ground in 24 attempts. Sparaco was 7-of-11 passing for 116 yards. Stutsman had a season-high 168 yards passing on 5-of-9 attempts.
With Palisade’s 26-14 win over Eagle Valley, the Bulldogs (7-2, 5-1) are now in first place because of their tie-breaker victory at Rifle two weeks ago. Glenwood (5-4, 4-2) falls behind Delta (6-3, 4-2) due to the Panthers’ win over the Demons. Glenwood travels to Steamboat next week, with the Bears meeting Summit, and Palisade in a critical matchup versus Delta – a Panther victory would likely give Rifle its fourth consecutive league championship.