RIFLE — Rifle High School’s football team was the better team for 3 ½ quarters against Palisade on Friday night. By the end of the game, the Bulldogs were the better team on the scoreboard.
John Goff’s 26-yard touchdown reception with 28.7 seconds remaining capped a come-from-behind victory for the second-ranked Bulldogs, who took advantage of the top-ranked Bears’ mistakes on their way to a 28-27 Class 3A Western Slope League victory at Bears Stadium.
“We just had too many mistakes,” said Rifle running back Javier Nunez, who finished with 97 of the Bears’ 304 rushing yards. “We just didn’t execute the way we should have. We fought hard, but we came up short.”
Indeed, two of the three turnovers Palisade forced proved vital in the game. One of them was a 15-yard interception return for a score from Daulton Hannigan which gave Palisade an early lead, and another was a fumbled snap from Rifle with 4:58 remaining which shifted the momentum in the Bulldogs’ favor.
“I thought that Rifle outplayed us for most of the game,” Palisade coach Joe Ramunno said. “We really couldn’t get anything going early on until late in the game.”
With the victory, Palisade (6-0 overall, 4-0 league play) has the upper hand at winning the league championship and, if the remainder of the season goes its way, a top seed in the Class 3A state playoffs. The Bulldogs managed to do that despite a dominant first half from Rifle, which limited Palisade to just 94 of its 319 yards of total offense in the first half.
But little things, such as the Bears’ three turnovers and a missed extra-point try, were things the Bulldogs took advantage of.
“I heard somebody today talking about Joe Madden, the manager of the Tampa Bay Rays,” Rifle coach Damon Wells said. “He said during one of their slumps, they were losing games of inches. I think tonight we lost games of inches.”
Rifle isn’t slumping regardless of the loss, which was the first in the regular season since a 20-19 loss to Glenwood Springs on the final day of the 2011 season — a span of 25 games.
Rifle struck first, marching 64 yards on 12 plays in their opening drive, capping it with a 5-yard TD run from Kellin Leigh. Palisade went three-and-out on their first possession but, after a 42-yard punt from Levi Hoaglund, a Rifle player was pushed into the punted ball as it rested on the ground. Palisade pounced on the ball and took possession, then knotted the scored at 7-all on Hoaglund’s 1-yard TD plunge with 3 minutes left in the first quarter.
The Bears got the ball on their own 1 when Leigh fielded the kickoff and stepped out of bounds. On the next play, Hannigan picked off Rifle QB Layton Stutsman and ran into the end zone untouched from 15 yards out.
The Bears tied it on a 15-yard TD run from Brock Clark at the 10:54 mark of the second quarter and, on their next drive, went ahead on Clark’s 26-yard jaunt. The score stood at 20-14, however, after Eduardo Sandoval’s point-after kick was blocked.
Rifle forced the Bulldogs to turn the ball over on downs on their next possession, then went up 27-14 on Leigh’s 2-yard TD run with seven seconds left before halftime. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter, however, that Palisade pulled within 27-21 on Hoaglund’s 8-yard TD pass to Tass Crow with 7:30 on the clock.
Palisade finally pulled ahead, driving 68 yards in 29 seconds. The player who caught the winning TD pass, Goff, was a junior-varsity player who Ramunno brought up because of discipline issues with other players.
Rifle did get the ball back one last time and drove to the Palisade 40, but Stutsman’s desperation heave to the end zone fell to the turf after time expired.
Bayfield 27, Coal Ridge 12
PEACH VALLEY — Coal Ridge High School’s football team came within two points of a powerful Bayfield squad, but the Titans lost momentum down the stretch in the Class 2A Western Slope League game.
Chris Contreras’s 38-yard TD reception from Jerome Pizzeli brought the Titans within 14-12 before Bayfield pulled away. Coal Ridge was down 14-6 at halftime following Pizzelli’s 12-yard touchdown run.
“The kids played with a lot of heart,” Coal Ridge coach Kyle Sager said. “Their coaching staff even came into the locker room afterward and told them that if they keep playing like that, the wins will come.”
Coal Ridge (0-6, 0-4 league) continues league play next Friday at Aspen.
Grand Valley (1-5, 1-3 league) earned its first 2A WSL win with a 39-21 victory over Pagosa Springs in Parachute. Roaring Fork (2-4, 0-2 1A WSL) is still winless in league play following a 27-0 loss at Cedaredge on Friday night.
“We just had too many mistakes. We just didn’t execute the way we should have. We fought hard, but we came up short.”
Rifle running back