RIFLE — It’s Rifle vs. Palisade.
No. 1 vs. No. 2.
The top two high school football teams in Class 3A — both in the Western Slope League and Colorado — will face each other on Friday night in a key league game at Bears Stadium. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m.
Rifle moved to the top of the CHSAAnow.com Class 3A football poll Monday following its 55-7 victory at Battle Mountain this past Friday. Palisade, which was previously ranked No. 3, moved up one spot in the poll to No. 2.
It’s the second consecutive season that the Bears and Bulldogs have faced each other as the No. 1 and 2 teams in Class 3A. Last year, Rifle played Palisade at Stocker Stadium in Grand Junction, with Rifle owning the state’s No. 1 ranking and Palisade ranked No. 2. The Bears prevailed in that game, 31-3, in front of a near-capacity crowd.
Previously top-ranked Silver Creek, the defending Class 3A state champion, dropped a 31-28 decision to unranked Frederick this past Friday. The Raptors dropped to No. 4 with the loss, with Coronado of Colorado Springs jumping into the No. 3 spot.
The polls are done by a panel of media who cover high school football around Colorado. When the final poll came out Monday afternoon, Rifle had 154 vote points. Palisade finished with 153.
Points are tabulated based on where a team is placed by voters in the rankings. A team is given 10 points for a first-place vote, nine for second place, and so on.
The Bears were also picked as the top-ranked team in the ColoradoPreps.com poll. Palisade was also voted second in that poll.
Rifle is going for its 26th consecutive regular-season victory, with its last regular-season loss coming in a 20-19 setback against Glenwood Springs on the final day of the 2010 season.
Unlike last season when the Bears had one of Colorado’s leading rushers in Ryan Moeller, Rifle has a noticeably more balanced running attack in their Wing-T offense. The Bears are still averaging 345 rushing yards per game, but four different players (Kellin Leigh, Brock Clark, Javier Nunez and David Fugita) are averaging more than 10 yards per carry. Not much has changed on defense from the Bears’ 2012 campaign, as Rifle is outscoring its opponents 239-20 through five games.
Palisade (5-0, 3-0) has outscored its opponents 224-46 this season. Its most recent victory came on Saturday, when the Bulldogs upended Class 4A and previously unbeaten Durango 28-21.
Like Rifle, Palisade’s running game is its proverbial bread and butter. The Bulldogs’ two primary running backs, Levi Hoaglund and Daulton Hannigan, have each rushed for more than 600 yards through five games. Six different Palisade ball carriers — including Hoaglund and Hannigan — are averaging at least 9 yards per rushing attempt. Palisade is averaging 382 rushing yards per game.
The game could also be the last time the Bears and Bulldogs face each other as league rivals. Palisade’s enrollment is projected to exceed CHSAA’s limit for Class 3A football, meaning the Bulldogs will likely make the jump to Class 4A football in 2014.