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Rifle defeats Sterling in a game of inches

Thomas Martinez
Post Independent Photo/Kara K. Pearson
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RIFLE ” Sometimes football is a game of chance ” of inches really ” especially when a championship is on the line.

Take Rifle High School’s 7-6 Class 3A football victory against Sterling on a cold but sunny Saturday afternoon.

Like the game of life, there was plenty of laughing and crying and a lot of jubilation and heartbreak.

After the game, Rifle’s first championship in 31 years, Rose Rauman stood on the field among hundreds of screaming fans.

She was hugging her son, crying and laughing.

“I told him what an awesome kid he was. We just can’t believe it,” she said.

Her son ” Rocky ” didn’t have his best game on Saturday. The senior, widely regarded as the team’s best player, needed his teammates to help him.

They did. And that, Rose said, is what makes this Rifle team special.

“This isn’t your typical team,” she said. Most of the seniors are focused, and they don’t do a lot of partying, she said.

Their weekly pre-game ritual is a game of Monopoly on Thursday nights.

“They’re just an awesome bunch of boys,” she said. “In the playoffs, they really just came together as a team and played their hearts out.”

The game had all of the usual high-stakes strategy and energy, both teams gambling as if it was a high-stakes poker game.

In the end, the game came down to different kinds of inches: a couple of key turnovers, a roughing-the-kicker penalty with less than two minutes left in the game that salted the win for Rifle, two one-handed touchdown catches, an unsuccessful fake field goal, and a missed extra point in the first quarter that proved the difference in the game. Inches are important here because those plays easily could have turned out differently and changed the course of the game.

(You can read more about the key plays and all the stats on the sports pages.)

But this story, this football game, this championship is one for the ages.

“This was a long time coming. I’ve been waiting for this for 30 years,” said Rifle fan Arnold Mackley after the game, watching the victory celebration on the field. He remembers the last time Rifle won a state title in football, and 31 years is a long, long time, he said. “It’s very uplifting for the town.”

The win was a little bittersweet ” but special nonetheless ” for Steve Yelton, of Montrose.

Bittersweet because Rifle won the title, one year after his son, Wade Clapier, a former lineman for the Bears, graduated. Clapier now attends the University of Utah. Special, well, because Rifle won the championship. And you can’t beat that, he said.

“It’s just wonderful.”

After the game, one of the key players for Rifle, senior Jordan Robinson, was relieved it was over.

“I’m just enjoying this win,” he shouted. Robinson scored the only touchdown for Rifle, outjumping Sterling’s Troy Sides for a spectacular catch ” he actually trapped the ball against his shoulder pad before pulling it in with both hands ” and running in the final three yards for the score.

The game was tough, Robinson said, but then he and his teammates knew it would be that way.

“It was a real battle,” he said.

The battle was, after all, for the state championship.

And as in all battles, someone wins, someone loses, one team’s the champ, the other’s not.

Just 10 feet from the triumphant Rifle celebration, a lone Sterling player ” Phillip Wyckoff ” stood on the field hugging his dad, letting the day’s emotions overcome him. “You played a terrific game,” the dad said, still bear-hugging his kid, the chants from Rifle fans making the conversation almost inaudible.

If not for a game of inches, that bear hug could have had an altogether different meaning for both teams.

Thomas R. Martinez is the Post Independent managing editor. He can be reached at 945-8515, ext. 517, or by e-mail at tmartinez@postindependent.com.


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