AURORA - Coy Zang decided to play football again for one simple reason.
"The football team, they were good," the Rifle High School senior said. "I wanted to be part of it."
All that followed proved to be quite the ride for the linebacker and his teammates, a ride that came to an end with a 32-15 loss to Longmont-based Silver Creek in Saturday's Class 3A state title game.
"It's been fun, for sure," said Zang, a wrestler who played football as a freshman but not as a sophomore or junior. "It's been a wild ride."
A ride the Bears finished up with a 13-1 record and a loss to the Raptors at Legacy Stadium in Aurora.
"It was fun being able to fight with these guys," said senior running back Ryan Moeller, who rushed for 142 yards and both Rifle touchdowns on 29 carries. "I'm glad I was with this group of kids, and that we got to experience everything we did."
Kellin Leigh finished with 116 yards rushing on 15 carries for Rifle. Aaron Wagler caught four balls for 61 yards receiving.
Moeller and the Bears ran up against a balanced Silver Creek attack in Saturday's title game.
Ben Sjobakken tossed for 236 yards and four scores on 20-of-28 passing, spreading those TDs among three different receivers. Josh Quiroz ran for 81 yards on 17 carries as the Raptors redeemed themselves after a 14-7 loss to Windsor in last year's title game.
"This is the best," a jubilant Sjobakken said. "This is the sweetest, man. Losing last year was probably one of the worst feelings I was ever able to witness, with all those seniors coming back into the locker room in that terror. That gave us motivation to win it this year."
Silver Creek (12-2) did it as an underdog, entering the 16-team playoffs as the No. 10 seed. The Raptors, who capped their title run with a win over the top-seeded team, entered 2012 after graduating a sizable senior class. That outgoing group included Austin Apodaca, a quarterback who now plays at Washington State University.
You better believe Sjobakken, a junior this season, was paying attention as Apodaca's understudy.
"Very much so," Sjobakken said. "It was great to play under him. I really loved watching him and what he did. I tried to do what he does in practice and utilize my own strengths at the same time."
On the game's opening drive, Sjobakken capped an 80-yard march with a 10-yard TD pass to Trey Fleming on fourth-and-4. Fleming's jumping catch in the back corner of the end zone set the tone for the afternoon.
Although Rifle responded with an 80-yard scoring drive capped by a Moeller 8-yard run on its first possession, Silver Creek took a 17-7 halftime lead with a 10-yard scoring pass from Sjobakken to Eric Machmueller and a 50-yard field goal by Ryan Charles in the second quarter.
Charles' long kick came with time expiring and followed Rifle's second turnover of the day, a fumble by quarterback Adam Rice on which the Raptors' Jeremy Metivier pounced. Collin Gibbs had an interception earlier in the second quarter for Silver Creek.
After Charles struck for a 43-yarder and Sjobakken connected with Zane Lindsey on a 7-yard TD pass in the third quarter to make it 26-7, Rifle was able to cut the score to 26-15 with a 2-yard rushing score by Moeller four seconds into the fourth quarter.
The Raptors' next possession did not yield points, with Charles missing a 46-yard field goal, leaving the door open for Rifle to get back into the game.
Another turnover kept that from happening.
With the ball on their own 47 midway through the fourth quarter, the Bears tried a halfback pass with Moeller that Silver Creek's Ross Fitzgerald intercepted.
"I thought we had been really hitting them with the run halfway through the third quarter and into the fourth quarter," Rifle coach Damon Wells said. "Ryan's a fantastic athlete and I thought that was a way to get the ball over their heads, so we took a shot. It didn't pay off. Ultimately, I'm fully aware that that's my responsibility. All the kids did exactly what they were asked to do."
The Raptors put the game out of reach with a 25-yard scoring pass from Sjobakken to Fleming up the right sideline.
Silver Creek's Andre Apodaca came up with an interception to halt the Bears' next possession, and that was that.
And so ended Rifle's wild ride, one that those with any sort of link to the program will never forget. It's a ride the Bears hope to continue next season.
"We have more than a few kids coming back," said Wells, who was overwhelmed by the number of Rifle fans who made the trek over the mountains to Aurora for the game. "Rifle is a great place to be, as is witnessed by the amount of support we had here today.
"I think it goes without saying, but, man, I'm proud to be from Rifle."