PUEBLO - Rifle High School's football team and fans were on the verge of brimming with anticipation. Instead, one play turned the Bears' Class 3A semifinal matchup against Pueblo East into domination.
A key defensive stop for the Bears kept the game's momentum in Rifle's favor on its way to a 56-6 victory over Pueblo East. It lasted until the start of the second quarter, when the Eagles were on the verge of cutting a two-touchdown deficit in half.
It didn't happen, though, and Rifle's defense, just like it had in its quarterfinal-round victory against Roosevelt, got a big stop when it needed to.
"We got all of the intensity up that we needed to at just the right time," Rifle senior linebacker Cody Beauford said. "Getting that stop was a big relief."
Pueblo East trailed, 14-0, following a 1-yard touchdown run from Ryan Moeller with 2 minutes, 37 seconds remaining. A 56-yard run from Derion Ibarra, however, followed by a 14-yard pass from Kurt Rode to Felix Mestas two plays later, put the Eagles on Rifle's 14.
Ibarra got Pueblo East to the Bears' 7 before the first quarter ended.
Moeller, however, came up big when Ibarra carried on the first play of the second quarter. Playing safety, he stripped the running back of the ball at the 2, and Bailey Hoffmeister pounced on it in the end zone for a touchback to end the scoring threat.
"They kept moving the ball five yards, five yards and 10 yards at a time," said Hoffmeister, a cornerback. "But we didn't let up at the end, and I'm just glad I was in just the right spot to recover the fumble."
Rifle's offense took advantage.
On the Bears' first play following the recovered fumble, quarterback Adam Rice faked a pair of handoffs and, after Pueblo East's front line bit on the fakes, threw to a remarkably wide-open Kellin Leigh for an 80-yard touchdown pass just 19 seconds into the second quarter.
Marco Gutierrez's point-after kick made it 21-0 when, just minutes beforehand, the Eagles were on the verge of cutting their deficit to 14-7.
"Football is a game of momentum and that definitely did take a little steam out of us," Pueblo East coach David Ramirez said. "It's one of those things. You face adversity in the course of a game and you need to be able to bounce back from it. Unfortunately, they capitalized on it better than we bounced back from it."
Rifle, as it turned out, just built on its momentum, taking a 35-0 halftime lead before finishing the game with a 50-point victory.
"We'll take the time to celebrate this for right now," Leigh said. "But we also have to come back and look at the game film and learn from it so we can be prepared for next week."