Rifle defense delivers in the clutch
Special to the Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO
RIFLE, Colorado – No big, lopsided score was going to happen here. Roosevelt High School’s football team made sure of that.
But Rifle’s defense, which had been big all season, came up big just when it needed to on Saturday.
The Rough Riders made sure things would stay close in Saturday’s Class 3A quarterfinal matchup with a diverse look on offense. They switched from a read-option attack in the first three quarters to a hurry-up spread offense in the fourth quarter that got them within striking distance against Rifle.
In the end, the Rough Riders (7-5) fell short, as top-ranked Rifle held on for a 48-34 victory to reach the Class 3A semifinals. But they amassed 494 yards of total offense, and their point total was just one short of what the Bears (12-0) had allowed during their first 11 games.
Rifle, however, found ways to step up on defense just when it needed to, with the most critical times coming in the second half.
“I hope we can learn from this,” Rifle coach Damon Wells said. “There were definitely things we could have done better. But there were a lot of things we did very well.”
One of the things Roosevelt did very well in the first half was run the football – thanks to senior quarterback Spencer Urban. His ability to read Rifle’s defense in the first half earned him 110 rushing yards on 16 carries, keeping Roosevelt within 21-14 at halftime.
Rifle, however, adjusted in the second half, holding Urban without a single rushing yard on five second-half carries. It made a huge difference when Rifle forced Roosevelt to turn the ball over on downs on the Bears’ 19, where Urban was stopped on a fourth-and-2 run he would have easily made in the first half.
And Rifle took advantage, going up 28-14 on a 95-yard touchdown pass from Adam Rice to Ryan Moeller just a snap after the Bears were flagged for holding.
“To me, that was the game right there,” Roosevelt coach Noland Eastin said of his team’s offensive series following the turnover. “They actually gave us a front, and we tried to [change the play] and call an audible. But the crowd was so loud that we couldn’t get it checked and they stuffed it. And they scored right away after that. That’s a big, big turnaround right there.”
Eastin said the adjustments Rifle made at halftime to counteract Roosevelt’s running game were solid. He said he noticed how the Bears switched up their defensive alignment to cover spots which were open in the first half, and it worked. Roosevelt finished with 289 rushing yards, with just 67 coming in the second half.
But with the rushing game gone and the Rough Riders facing a three-TD deficit late in the fourth quarter, Urban brought the Riders back. He hit on 12 of 17 fourth-quarter passes for 177 yards, and his 19-yard pass to Josh Semmler with 45 seconds left was part of a run where he completed 9-of-10 passes.
That’s when Rifle’s defense stepped up big again. With 16.8 seconds left, Urban threw high to the middle of the field to Mark Rios. The ball deflected off of Rios’ hands and into the waiting arms of Moeller, who scampered 91 yards into the end zone as time expired to send the home crowd into a frenzy.
“It was a little jaw dropping, because they just kept passing and passing and finding the holes in our coverage,” said Moeller, who also picked off the first pass of the game thrown by Urban. “They did their job and did really well, so it’s not like they didn’t earn that. That [interception] was nice. It put everyone’s mind at ease.”
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Burning Mountain Park in New Castle will illuminate Saturday evening at the town’s Holiday Tree Lighting and Chili Cook-off between 5 and 7 p.m.