KMTS FOOTBALL: Rifle Goal-line Stand Holds off Demons, 27-21

RIFLE (10/28/16) – The script was advancing perfectly for Glenwood to upset Rifle’s Western Slope League championship hopes – until the Bears stopped Easton Gaddis at the one yard line with 17 seconds to hold on to a 27-21 see-saw victory one week before their showdown at Palisade.

Maybe the Bears were looking ahead to that clash of 4-0 WSL teams, or perhaps it was the absence of their 1,000 yard runner and touchdown leader, Drake Montgomery, due to injury, but Rifle, 7-1, had its hands full with a 4-5 (2-2 WSL) Glenwood team, playing without its league-leading receiver, Luke Gair.

Rifle didn’t take a lead until sophomore Brian Escobar’s nine-yard TD with 9 minutes left in the game capped a 10-play, 80-yard drive – all on the ground. But the usually reliable Eduardo Ruiz had his extra point kick blocked after a poor snap, leaving the door open for an upset with Rifle up by six.

The teams had traded touchdowns in the second and third quarters and three times one team scored on the next possession after an opponent did. But neither team could move the ball on an exchange of possessions after Rifle finally pulled ahead. However, Glenwood gained the field-position advantage when Jacob Boone, trying to kick away from Gaddis, punted out of bounds at the Demon 44 with 4:49 remaining in the game. After the punt, Glenwood used its second time out, which would prove critical in the game’s final seconds.

Quarterback Jake Townsley, who rushed for 124 yards in the game, broke free for 14 yards to the Rifle 36, then Gaddis picked up 12 to the 24 with 3 minutes to play. Two plays later, Gaddis, who had been held in check most of the night, broke free down the right sideline for what appeared to be the go-ahead touchdown with 2:34 remaining, but a holding call moved Glenwood back to the 33. On 3rd and 12, Townsley hit Gavin Olson for 10 yards, but the sophomore receiver was tackled just after he stepped out of bounds, giving the Demons a first-and goal at the eight yard line.

That late hit looked like it would be the fourth and most critical mistake for the Bears, who had lost two fumbles in the first half followed by an interception in the third quarter, which led to a 21-14 Glenwood lead.

Townsley ran for four yards, but injured his hand and was slow to get up with 1:18 left on the clock. He stayed in, handing off to Gaddis, who got to the two as coach Rocky Whitworth used the Demons’ final time out with 46 seconds left. Asked after the game if he considered faking it to Gaddis on either of their last two chances and taking it himself, Townsley said, “No, we have confidence in Easton.”

But Gaddis, who scored five touchdowns a week ago against Summit, was stopped at the one on third-and-goal as the clock showed 35 seconds. With no more time outs, on fourth down Gaddis tried the interior of the Rifle line once more, and the home crowd roared in triumph as no touchdown signal came from the referees. The ball went over to the Bears with 17 ticks on the scoreboard.

Rifle appeared to miss Montgomery from the outset, fumbling on its first possession at the Glenwood 34, then failing on a 4th-and-3 at the Demon 22. Camron Shepherd fumbled for the second time in the quarter on his own 39, and a Bear penalty along with a 17-yard run by Gaddis set up the first of two touchdowns by the league’s scoring leader, an 11-yard run with 10:12 to go in the second quarter.

Being behind seemed to awake the Bears, who drove 72 yards in 7 plays, including a 14-yard run by Escobar and a 20-yard completion from Luke Ellis to Brandon Fletchall, who scored from the 7 after a 14-yard run by Blaine Vance. Ruiz’ extra point tied the score at seven with 6:54 until halftime.

Glenwood answered with Townsley running for 37 yards inside the Bear 30. Facing 4th-and-4 a few plays later, the Demon QB juked a couple of Rifle defenders to break loose for 20 yards down to the Bear two-yard line. On the next play, Townsley put Glenwood ahead again, 14-7 at the 5:13 mark.

Following an exchange of punts, Rifle once more squared the score after Vance returned a punt from midfield to the Demon 30. Ellis ran and passed Rifle to the 19, and a pair of penalties advanced the ball to the three. Shepherd’s sweep and Ruiz’ extra point evened the score again with 21 seconds left before intermission.

Each team scored once in the third period, Townsley setting up Gaddis’ league-leading 17th TD and a 21-14 Demon lead with an interception, and Rifle driving 69 yards in just 5 plays, including a 26-yard burst by Vance, concluded by Shepherd’s 25-yard touchdown run with 4:12 left in the quarter. Ruiz knotted the score for the third time with his extra point.

As the third quarter wound down, Tyler Deitrich’s 37-yard field goal attempt to break the tie was on line, but short, and the teams went into the final quarter tied at 21, setting up the dramatic finish.

The Bears alternated Escobar, Shepherd, and Fletchall in place of Montgomery, refusing to place the running workload on Vance, who came into the game as the league’s top rusher at 1,077 yards (just 60 ahead of Montgomery). The trio held up well after a slow start, finishing with 122 yards and all four Bear touchdowns on 21 carries. Vance did his part, gaining 138 yards on 19 attempts.

Rifle not only stopped Gaddis short of the goal line on the game’s final three carries, but held him to just 69 yards on 21 tries after he’d topped the century mark in five straight games.

The Bears, after a penalty and the heroic goal-line stand preserved their undefeated WSL mark, travel to Palisade for the title clash next week, while the Demons will likely miss the playoffs by that same margin, concluding their season at home with Eagle Valley.