Adam Rice sniffed slightly, fighting off the tears that came as the result of the Rifle High School football team's season coming to a close.
The Bears had just lost the Class 3A state championship game, 32-15, to Silver Creek at Legacy Stadium in Aurora. He and his teammates were leaving the locker room, still pondering everything the Raptors had done to end Rifle's run at an unbeaten season.
Rice, however, took a moment to ponder one of the things he loved, and will miss, about the 2012 season.
"Playing with these guys," the senior quarterback said.
Rice was one of several Rifle players who echoed that statement, even after the initial emotions following Silver Creek's win were still wearing off.
"There were so many great things and great memories which came out of this season," Rifle coach Damon Wells said. "It would be impossible to pick just one as a favorite."
The obvious ones are easy to see.
The Bears finished the season 13-1, running the table on their regular-season schedule and winning the 3A Western Slope League championship a second straight year. They were ranked No. 1 in most of the state's prep football polls for most of the season, thanks in part to a powerful running game that ranked first in the classification and second to Pueblo West statewide. They also set a school record for wins, eclipsing the previous high of 11 set in the 2011 season.
"The work and everything that we've gone through over the past few years all came together," said running back and safety Ryan Moeller. "I'm glad we had this chance. It's unfortunate that we lost, but I'm really glad we got this chance."
Moeller, - who has drawn collegiate interest from schools such as Colorado Mesa University and, more recently, Colorado State - rushed for 141 yards and two touchdowns against Silver Creek, bringing his final season rushing total to 3,002 yards. He finished with 3,211 yards of total offense and, including the 57 tackles, eight interceptions and four interception returns for scores, tallied 50 touchdowns. Only nine players in the nation, according to www.MaxPreps.com, ound the end zone more. Overall, he finished with 5,471 rushing yards during his final two years of high school.
Not to be outdone, junior Kellin Leigh finished with 1,174 yards on 121 carries, including a 117-yard performance against Silver Creek. Sophomore Isaac Rider chipped in 414 yards, leaving optimism for next season's rushing attack. Aaron Wagler, a senior, was the team's leading receiver with 23 catches for 332 yards and four touchdowns.
Rifle defense also proved to be one of the state's best, recording six shutouts and, even after allowing 30-plus points to Silver Creek and Roosevelt in the 3A playoffs, only allowed an average of 7.64 points per game.
Senior Cody Beauford's 122 tackles over the course of the season was a team high, and sophomore Austin Shepherd (70 tackles) finished second.
In all, 14 seniors graduate off the 2012 squad which, according to a rankings point system calculated by www.MaxPreps.com, ranked No. 1 in Class 3A.
It didn't take the initial sting away from this past Saturday's loss, but the season did, in the minds of some, leave a positive legacy for other Rifle teams to follow.
"I know we live in a world where ultimately success is defined by wins and losses," Wells said. "But right now, I couldn't be more proud to be associated with these kids and this program. The amount of work they do above and beyond the average high school student is unmeasurable, and it will serve them well for the rest of their lives. I'm proud to know all of them."