Rifle defense key in 36-33 win over Palisade
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
GRAND JUNCTION, Colorado – Rifle has leaned on its defense all season.
On Friday, that defense delivered when it mattered most.
Producing a pair of sacks in the waning moments at Stocker Stadium in Grand Junction, the Bears held on for a 36-33 football win over Palisade, clinching the 3A Western Slope League title in the process.
“I think we wanted it more,” Rifle sophomore Javier Nunez said. “We wanted to be champions. We just had to step it up.”
Nunez had the second of those two late sacks, grabbing hold of quarterback Luke McLean’s leg and knocking him to the turf on third-and-18, forcing the Bulldogs into a fourth-and-28 situation.
“It was just a rush,” Nunez said. “I knew I had to get it and I got it.”
A short completion on fourth down didn’t come close to covering the necessary 28 yards, giving Rifle the ball with 11.5 seconds left. The Bears kneeled once and walked off the field with a league title in tow. It was their first 3A WSL crown since 2002.
Big play after big play preceded that big defensive stand.
Brandon Kittle had a number of them, legging out touchdown runs spanning 67 and 61 yards for Rifle. The senior back finished with 235 yards on 21 carries.
Junior Ryan Moeller, who rumbled 97 yards for a score on the Bears’ first play from scrimmage, ended his night with 149 yards on 13 carries.
Teammate Taylor Webb also got in on the act, running for a 30-yard TD and hauling in a 6-yard TD pass from Adam Rice on fourth-and-goal with 11 minutes, 3 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Webb’s catch, which he made after the ball deflected off a Palisade defender, put Rifle up 36-19.
The Bulldogs countered with a pair of TDs – the first a 6-yard pass from McLean to J.T. Townsend on fourth-and-goal and the second a 15-yard scoring pass from Lane Orman to Caden Woods – but the Bears were able to withstand the rally.
“It’s amazing,” Kittle said as his teammates celebrated with hugs and howls in the background. “We all thought we could win. We knew we could win.”
Rifle, which improved to 9-0 overall and to 6-0 in league play, will gun for its first undefeated regular season since 2002 – the same year as that last league title – against visiting Glenwood Springs next week.
“We just have to keep working at it,” Nunez said. “We’ll prepare next week for Glenwood and keep going on from there.”
McLean paced the Bulldogs (7-2 overall, 4-2 in the 3A WSL) with 64 rushing yards and a TD on 22 carries. He completed 11 of 21 passes for 124 yards and two TDs.
Palisade’s Ronald Kuntz finished with 52 yards on 10 carries. Townsend had 37 yards and a score on eight totes and Woods caught six passes for 73 yards. Orman hauled in a 25-yard TD pass from McLean in the first quarter.
Palisade heads to Delta next week.
At Stocker Stadium, Grand Junction
Rifle 14 7 7 8 – 36
Palisade 13 0 6 14 – 33
R – Ryan Moeller 97 run (Marco Gutierrez kick), 9:13
P – Lane Orman 25 pass from Luke McLean (Spencer Jackson kick), 5:20
P – J.T. Townsend 8 run (kick failed), 2:30
R – Brandon Kittle 67 run (Gutierrez kick), 2:13
R – Taylor Webb 30 run (Gutierrez kick), 7:13
P – McLean 2 run (conversion failed), 7:58
R – Kittle 61 run (Gutierrez kick), 6:26
R – Webb 6 pass from Adam Rice (Kittle conversion run), 11:03
P – Townsend 6 pass from McLean (Jackson kick), 8:15
P – Caden Woods 15 pass from Orman (Jackson kick), 2:58
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