Jeff Caspersen
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

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November 30, 2012
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2012 Bears catch eye of title teams past

Kyle Sanderson remembers the packed bleachers at Bears Stadium.

"The whole town came together," he recalled. "It was Varsity Blues-like, like the whole town shut down and everybody came to the game."

And what a football game it was for Rifle High School and its fans.

In front of that jubilant home crowd on Dec. 4, 2004, the Bears defeated Sterling, 7-6, to capture the Class 3A state title.

Sanderson, the team's quarterback, connected on a 32-yard touchdown pass to wideout Jordan Robinson to tie the game and then followed by kicking the extra point to give Rifle the lead.

Eight years later, the 2012 Bears are cooking up quite the encore. If they defeat Silver Creek in Saturday's 3A state title game at Legacy Stadium in Aurora, they'd secure themselves a spot in school history.

And they're doing it under the watchful eye of Rifle football heroes of yesteryear.

Sanderson, now a civil engineer in Rifle, goes to most of the home games. He plans on making the trip to Aurora on Saturday.

"It's not every day you get to see your high school playing for a state championship," he said.

Sanderson, who went on to play football at the Colorado School of Mines, remembers the team's present-day stars as tykes.

"Adam Rice, the quarterback, his dad, Jonathan, was on our coaching staff when I played," Sanderson said. "I remember Adam, and Ryan Moeller, too. Those guys were little. They were some of our biggest fans watching us play."

Now Sanderson's one of their biggest fans.

Rocky Rauman, a standout running back from that 2004 team who went on to play at Fort Lewis College, is charting his old school's success from afar.

"I'm seriously impressed with what they're doing this year," the oil and gas industry worker said.

Winning a title is something special, Rauman said. It's something that sticks with you for life.

"It's something we'll always have that most high school kids don't get," he explained. "I don't know. It's a good thing to have under your belt. I don't live by it, but I'm definitely thankful for the experience."

Before the 2004 Bears raised a state title banner, two other Rifle teams did it. A glance into the Rifle Telegram archives reveals how the Bears landed their first two state championship trophies.

Kirk Swallow still has his Rifle jersey from 1973, the year he and the Bears won the Class AA state title with a win over Yuma on Saturday, Nov. 24.

Swallow hauled in the game-winning TD pass from quarterback Ray Hall in the second quarter. Swallow, now the president of Swallow Oil Company in Rifle, vividly remembers the 50-yard connection.

"I ran a couple down-and-outs and then a down-out-and-up - that was the pattern," he recalled. "I was wide open. It must have been about 15, 20 yards, then see ya later."

Star running back Russell Hiner followed it up with a two-point conversion for the lead, and the Bears held on for the 8-7 win in Yuma.

In 1961, Rifle had to settle for a tie in the Class A title game against Louisville. Like in 1973, the Bears played the Saturday, Nov. 25, game on the road.

After Steve Chapman drove over right guard for a 2-yard TD to tie the game at 6-all with six minutes left, Skip Schrotberger nailed the extra point. But a holding penalty wiped the point off the board.

The final score held, forcing the teams to share the title.

All these years later, the coach who guided Rifle to both the 1961 and 1973 titles, is still following his team.

"You bet," said the legendary Gordon Cooper, who has checked out a few games this year and will be listening to Saturday's title tilt on the radio. "They're doing great."

What stands out most to Cooper about the 2012 Bears?

"Well, that back they have is unbelievable," he said. "Plus, they have a good defense."

Moeller, the running back he's referencing, could surpass the 3,000-yard rushing mark this weekend. Cooper says Moeller reminds him a bit of Hiner, his star ball-carrier from back in 1973.

"I don't know if Russell was as fast but Russell was incredibly quick," Cooper said. "I remember one time, playing Glenwood when Russell Hiner was a freshman. We were playing at the fairgrounds here, where we used to have the old football field. It was a close game. I don't remember for sure, but I think we were behind a few points or something in the fourth quarter. We split Russell out to the right, ran a reverse with him and we scored. After the game, [Nick] Stubler came up to me and all he said was, 'Sly fox.'"

All these years later, present-day Rifle coach Damon Wells surely elicits similar reactions from foes. His Bears are 13-0 and are just plain dominant, averaging 44.5 points a game. They've surrendered just 75 points on the season.

Win or lose on Saturday, Wells' 2012 crew will be remembered for a long time to come.

Just like Rifle's title teams of years past.

jcaspersen@postindependent.com


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The Post Independent Updated Nov 30, 2012 02:17AM Published Nov 30, 2012 02:12AM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.