Rifle beats Coal Ridge 36-8 in WSL opener
It wasn’t pretty, but the Rifle Bears football team did enough Friday night on the road in New Castle to defeat the Coal Ridge Titans 36-8, opening up 2A Western Slope League play on a positive note.
The game featured a combined 7 turnovers and a rare safety, making for a mistake-filled game on a chilly night in New Castle. In fact, 4 of the 7 turnovers occurred in the first quarter as both teams got off to slow starts. Fortunately for Rifle, the Bears were able to overcome the sloppy start to pick up their first win in 2A Western Slope League play after dropping down from 3A last season.
“I was proud of our boys [for overcoming the rough start],” said Damon Wells, Rifle’s head coach. “We were pretty sloppy; I know that has to get cleaned up moving forward. Fortunately, that’s why we practice. We’ll get back to work and see how good we can be moving forward.”
Four plays into the game, Coal Ridge had to punt the ball away to the Bears. The first punt saw the Bears return it to the Coal Ridge 40 yard line, but a running into the punter penalty against Rifle allowed the Titans to re-punt.
That decision to re-punt backfired for the Titans, as a high snap went over punter Oscar Salazar’s head into the end zone, where Salazar raced back and jumped on the ball for a safety, giving Rifle at 2-0 lead 1 minute, 8 seconds into the game.
“That’s the wrong time to have a bad snap, obviously,” Paul Downing, Coal Ridge’s head coach said. “Our snaps have been good in practice and good in games, so to re-kick didn’t seem like a big issue to us. We were going to get 5 yards and re-kick trying to play the field-position game. It just backfired.”
Trailing 2-0, Coal Ridge kicked off to Rifle, which turned around and fumbled on its second offensive play of the game, giving Coal Ridge the football near midfield.
The Titans drove 12 yards in 5 plays before Rifle’s Carter Pressler picked off a pass from Karsen Dubois near midfield, giving Rifle the ball back with the lead.
Rifle didn’t waste any time capitalizing on the turnover as Holden Stutsman raced 31 yards down the right sideline on a bootleg to set up his 3-yard rushing touchdown with 6:08 left in the first quarter, giving the Bears an 8-0 lead after the extra point bounced off the right upright.
Coal Ridge’s second possession went backwards, but the Titans caught on a break on the ensuing punt as Rifle’s punt returner muffed the punt, allowing Coal Ridge’s Jared Lund to jump on the ball at the 47 yard line, giving the Titans a new possession.
The Titans didn’t do anything with the new possession though as Dubois was sacked by Rifle’s Levi Warfel on third down, forcing another Titan punt.
Taking over on its own 22 yard line, Rifle lost 6 yards on the first play from scrimmage but then proceeded to march 84 yards in 9 plays as Warfel raced around left end for a 15-yard score — his first of 3 touchdowns on the night, pushing Rifle’s lead to 15-0 with 10:15 left in the second quarter.
“It wasn’t all me tonight; we had great blocking up front,” Warfel said. “Our backs ran hard, our line stayed on blocks, and Holden [Stustman] carried out his fakes well and threw the ball well.”
Holding a 15-0 lead, Rifle turned up the pressure defensively as Wyatt Warfel and Ariel Herrera teamed up to sack Dubois for a 7-yard loss, forcing a Coal Ridge punt, which led to a 47-yard burst up the gut on the ground by Tanner Vines three plays later, giving Rifle a 22-0 lead with 7:10 left in the half.
Trailing by 3 scores, Coal Ridge’s offense found its footing as Jan Hernandez raced down the right sideline for a 34-yard run, igniting the home crowd. Coal Ridge’s drive stalled though thanks to a false start on 4th and 1, forcing the Titans to try for a 41-yard field goal. Salazar’s big leg came up just short on the attempt, keeping the Titans off the board.
Following the missed field goal, the Bears began their march down the field looking to score before the half, as Stutsman found Dalton Pruett down the seam for a 24-yard connection, while Vines rushed for 14 yards. Rifle wasn’t able to put points on the board though as Stutsman was picked off on a deep shot down the right sideline by Moises Contreras, sending the teams into the half with Rifle on top 22-0.
Coming out of the half, the bizarre game continued as Rifle got the ball to start the first half. Vines rushed for 20 yards on the first play from scrimmage but fumbled the ball. With luck on his side, Rifle’s Talon Cordova was in the right spot at the right time for the Bears, scooping up the fumble and rumbling another 20 yards near midfield, keeping Rifle’s drive alive. Following a 20-yard run from Levi Warfel and a 16-yard run from Vines, Warfel scored again, this time for 6 yards out, stretching Rifle’s lead to 29-0 with 9:25 left in the third quarter.
“He just works hard, and he’s trustworthy,” Wells said. “We can depend on him to provide max effort, and he knows what he’s doing out there. He’s a great young man from a great family.”
Coal Ridge went three-and-out on its next possession, giving the ball right back to the Bears, who scored 4 plays later as Stutsman found Warfel from 8 yards out on a crossing route that saw Warfel break a couple of tackles before crossing the goal line, giving Rifle a 36-0 lead with 5:36 left in the third quarter.
The Titans’ struggles on offense continued on the next possession as Coal Ridge went three-and-out again, punting the ball back to Rifle. This time though, the Titan defense stood tall.
Rifle drove all the way down to the Coal Ridge 9 yard line in a goal-to-go situation, but the Titans didn’t buckle, forcing the turnover on downs to start the fourth quarter. Riding the wave of momentum created by the defense, the offense started clicking again as Dubois found Damian Spell out of the backfield for 15 yards, and Jackson Wade on a slant route for 20 yards. The drive stalled there though as Herrera recorded his second sack of the night for the Bears, knocking the ball out of Dubois’s hand in the process. Coal Ridge recovered the fumble and punted the ball away hoping the defense could stand tall again.
It did just that as the Titans forced a fumble, recovering the ball deep in Rifle territory.
Looking to put points on the board to build some momentum for next week, Coal Ridge started to move the ball methodically as Dubois found Wade for 14 yards, while Spell rushed for 5 yards, setting up a goal-to-go situation. On third and goal from the Rifle 3 yard line, Hernandez took a pitch off right tackle for the 3-yard score before then adding the 2-point conversion on a swing pass from Dubois, capping off the scoring for both teams.
“I don’t think it’s about carrying it into next week, but it’s big that we’re starting to see some of the right things,” Downing said. “I think this is something that will be an ongoing process, and we need to get better each and every week.”
Rifle’s win pushes the Bears to 5-0 (1-0 2A WSL) on the season. The Bears travel to Delta next Friday for a league matchup with the Panthers at 7 p.m.
Coal Ridge falls to 1-4 (0-1 2A WSL) on the season. The Titans travel to Basalt next Friday for a showdown with the Longhorns at 7 p.m.
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