Bears care about the win, not the accolades
Special to the Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO
RIFLE, Colorado – Rifle High School’s football team has made a habit of spreading the wealth around when it comes to handing the ball off. The Bears will play a team that does it even more on Saturday.
Granted, Rifle running backs Ryan Moeller, Kellin Leigh and Isaac Rider have all piled up their fair share of yardage, helping the Bears average 366.3 rushing yards per game this year. Then, of course, there’s Erie, which has seven players with at least 10 rushing attempts to help the Tigers average 280.2 yards per game on the ground.
But no matter who gets the ball when Rifle (10-0) hosts Erie (7-3) at 1 p.m. Saturday at Bears Stadium, not one of them is worried about who gets the ball more or who finishes with the most yardage. What will matter to Rifle in its first-round game of the Class 3A state playoffs is simply which team finishes with the highest score.
“As much as some people get more credit, when it comes to game time, I don’t think any one of us really cares about that,” said Leigh, who has 847 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns on 80 carries this season. “I think that as long as we get the ball moving and all of us are doing our jobs, we’re fine with that. It’s not an individual sport. We’re congratulating each other on every play, and we all have each other’s backs.”
Saturday’s game features a Rifle team coming off its second consecutive 3A Western Slope League title and its second consecutive unbeaten regular season. That earned the top seed in the state playoffs, giving the Bears the 16-team tournament’s last seed, Erie, as a first-round opponent.
That underdog role is something Rifle is familiar with, as the Bears reached the 2005 state championship as the playoffs’ 16th seed.
“We don’t care about being No. 1, mainly because we didn’t pick it,” Rifle coach Damon Wells said. “It will be neat for the kids to look back on and tell people they were ranked No. 1. It will be something no one can take away. But we know just as well as anyone that your seed doesn’t matter.”
What will matter, however, is how Erie’s defense approaches the Bears, whose 3,663 rushing yards leads the classification and is second only to Class 4A Pueblo West in all of Colorado, according to MaxPreps.com. And with that comes the senior running back Moeller, whose 2,202 yards and 31 TDs on 188 carries are tops in all classifications.
Add in the extra threat of the sophomore Rider (260 yards on 42 carries), and the Bears have a trio of options from behind the line of scrimmage.
“He’s grown up a lot,” Moeller said of Rider. “Yeah, that analogy is cheesy, but I think you’ve seen that from all of us, too. I think that as the year has gone on, you’ve started to see all of us become better all-around backs instead of just one-dimensional.”
There’s definitely more than one option at running back for Erie, which finished third in the 3A Northern League behind second-place Holy Family and league champion Frederick. Two of the Tigers’ three losses came to those teams as part of a three-game losing streak, but Erie has won its past three games headed into the postseason.
Erie’s leading rusher, junior tailback Joey Ramey, has 747 yards and seven TDs on 102 carries. He has big-play capabilities, and his 204-yard performance on 11 carries in the Tigers’ 49-0 win over Thomas Jefferson on Oct. 26 is proof of that.
Cristian Mickey is next in line with 630 yards on 88 carries, followed by Pedro Anderson (590 yards, 104 carries), Ryne Atkins (471, 66) and B.J. Jensen (224, 54). Atkins, however, has not played since Sept. 29.
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