RIFLE, Colorado - Damon Wells treats no team lightly. Rifle High School's head football coach has been on both ends of upsets, so he knows better.
As the top-seeded team in the 16-team Class 3A state playoffs, Wells, his fellow coaches and all his players approached Saturday's first-round matchup with No. 16 Erie as if the Bears were the underdogs.
That approach worked.
Looking as prepared and focused as it has all season long, Rifle destroyed the visiting Tigers, 42-0.
Senior running back Ryan Moeller finished with 279 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. He also returned an interception 37 yards for a score.
Afterwards, Moeller said the Bears (11-0) were very much prepared for their first-round foe.
"[Coach Wells] definitely keeps us in check," Moeller said with a grin. "It's something we've kind of been doing for a while. We prepare to be the underdogs. We overprepare. We scout everybody. You can be underprepared, but you can never be overprepared."
Roosevelt will consume Rifle's focus this week. The No. 8 Rough Riders, 21-15 winners over Palisade on Saturday, will travel to the Western Slope to face the Bears in Rifle next weekend.
When Moeller wasn't busy scoring TDs, RIfle's defense was busy stopping Erie's brigade of running backs.
After picking up a couple of first downs and driving the ball to the Bears' 37-yard line on their opening drive, the Tigers (7-4) could muster very little offense. A fumble, which Rifle's Kellin Leigh recovered, killed that drive.
The Bears' stingy defense continued to kill off drives the rest of the day en route to their sixth shutout of the season. For the season, Rifle has surrendered just 35 points.
"Our defensive staff and our kids work hard," Wells said. "They were spot-on with their plan and their adjustments."
"It just took a couple plays to get used to the field and see how they ran," junior defensive end Zach Bare said. "It was really slippery in the middle [early], and that kind of worked to their advantage a little bit."
Bone-chilling wind and light snowfall greeted players at kickoff. The temperature rose and the wind died down as the game wore on.
"At the beginning, I couldn't feel my fingers," Bare relayed.
In a literal sense, the Bears were definitely feeling it on Saturday.
Moeller opened the scoring with 1-yard rushing score with 3 minutes, 27 seconds remaining in the first quarter. He set up the short score with a bruising 41-yard run that featured a bevy of missed tackles. He somehow emerged from a scrum near the line of scrimmage, popping out and taking off up right sideline while shaking off a number of pursuing defenders.
"I thought we kind of had him bottled up at the line and he slipped a tackle," Erie coach Larry Gartrell said. "It was open field, just him running hard. We probably haven't seen that all year. We've seen some good backs. ... He's fast, he's got good balance and he's tough. He's a good one."
Moeller, who is nearly up to 2,500 yards for the season, added a pair of 2-yard TD runs in the second quarter and then busted loose for a 64-yarder in the third quarter.
The gifted back fronted a rushing attack that produced 394 yards. Leigh chipped in 57 yards and Isaac Rider had 35 yards and the Bears' final TD.
Erie managed just 129 yards of offense. Pedro Anderson ran for 56 yards to lead the way.
"Once we figured out how they played and what they did, we were able to stop them," said sophomore inside linebacker Austin Shepherd, who had an interception in the first half. "We were able to adapt."
Now, Rifle will turn its focus to Roosevelt (7-4). The two teams met in the first round of last year's playoffs, with the Bears winning, 14-7.
"Seven more days," Shepherd said. "It's good. We're looking forward to playing another good team."