Rifle football clinches return to state championship following semifinal victory

Rife's Isaac Valencia runs the ball on Saturday.
Theresa Hanilton/Courtesy

The No. 3 Rifle Bears secured their spot in the state championship with a decisive 24-15 victory over the No. 15 Eaton Reds in the 2A state playoffs semifinal on Saturday. This triumph marks Rifle’s first return to the state championship since 2021, highlighting a season of remarkable performance.

The game kicked off with senior Logan Gross scoring the first touchdown, setting a strong pace for Rifle. Despite a missed extra point, the Bears ended the first quarter with a 6-0 lead. The momentum continued in the second quarter with Gross connecting a 20-yard pass to Ryland Lane and then a 30-yard touchdown pass to Joel Valencia. 

The Bears’ lead stretched to 12-0, but the Reds retaliated with a pick from Aiden Adams that led to an Eaton touchdown, narrowing the gap to 12-7.

Gross’ performance was pivotal, leading to another touchdown before halftime. The Bears led 18-7 at the break, showcasing their offensive and defensive strength.

In the second half, Eaton quickly scored, making it 18-15. However, Rifle’s junior Isaac Valencia responded with a touchdown, extending their lead to 24-15. The fourth quarter saw the Bears maintaining their lead, ending the game with a significant victory.

“It’s a great feeling,” Rifle senior Sterling Cook said. “We have worked extremely hard this year, and hats off to Coach Leyba. We know what we are capable of and we want to bring home a title next week.”

“We knew what we had to do,” Rifle senior Joel Valencia said. “We have been talking about wanting to create a legacy at Rifle, and I think we can do that with one more win.”

Valencia notched one of three Rifle touchdowns on the day. 

Reflecting on the game and the journey ahead, head coach Ty Leyba shared his thoughts. 

“Getting this win, honestly it was pretty emotional for me,” Leyba said. “I’m not sure how many guys come back to coach the team they used to play for, but to be in this position right now and to be able to compete for a state championship next week, it feels incredible.”

Rifle now sets its sights on the state championship on Nov. 25, where they face the No. 1 ranked Delta, aiming to cap off an already impressive season with a state title.

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