Rifle football edges University 35-28 in 2A quarterfinal
Seven more days.
With 2:06 left in the state quarterfinal football game against University High School (Greeley), leading by just a touchdown and fourth with five to go, senior Logan Gross stared into the heart of a stingy Bulldog defensive line. With a broken play and what had proven to be a solid interior defensive line, Gross improvised.
Bouncing to his right, he shook the defensive end and exposed 42 yards of open green field between him, a Rifle victory 35-28, and seven more days of practice, anticipation, and most importantly, brotherhood.
“He’s a playmaker,” said first-year head coach Ty Leyba. “We drew it up against Basalt and ran it a little bit differently today and he just made a play.”
The touchdown put the playoff game out of reach for the sixth-seeded University Bulldogs (8-3). That’s nothing new for the lanky Bear quarterback who averages 142 yards per game in the air and an intimidating 245 yards on the ground. Gross had three scores in the Rifle victory getting help from Isaac Valencia and Ryland Lane in the ground attack.
The Bulldogs made the most of their first possession, marching down the field against the Rifle defense in steady six-to-seven-yard chunks, capping it off with a 15-yard touchdown toss from quarterback Cole Croissant to Johnny Whyrick.
The Bears (10-1) answered with a 65-yard drive of their own on the ground ending with Valencia bulling his way four-and-a-half yards for the touchdown with 1:46 left in the first quarter.
After shutting down University on their second drive, Leyba and Gross engineered an 89-yard drive for the Bears mixing the run with the pass. A seven-yard completion to Sterling Cook set Rifle up with a first-and-ten at the 22-yard line that Gross took in for six with 3:30 left in the first half.
But the Bulldogs did not take it easy for the second seed. University needed just 138 seconds to knot the game at 14 when Brevon Doss took a direct snap 18-yards into the end zone.
Coming out of the locker room at the half, the Bears intended to make a statement. Having won the coin toss at the beginning of the game and deferring to the second half, Rifle began the second stanza with the ball. Gross took the first snap of the third quarter around the left end for a 70-yard touchdown run putting the Bears up 21-14, a lead they would not relinquish.
“We told them it was 14-14, so it was a zero-zero ball game,” Leyba said. “At half-time I smiled and looked at them and said, ‘Hey, this playoff football,’ We made the adjustment and Logan does what he does.”
Gross gives the credit to his line.
“We knew that if we came out and played flat, that they’d come out and punch us in the mouth. We didn’t want anybody coming out punch us in the mouth and we wanted to punch that first,” said the senior quarterback. “I got to give credit to my lineman. They’re always there. They’ve got my back picking me up after every play. So they’re a big part of everything.”
University promptly began moving the ball down the field until Isaac Valencia’s interception with 7:35 left in the third gave the ball back to the Bears. Lane scored with 1:58 left on a reverse giving Rifle a 28-14 cushion. The Bulldogs closed the gap with a three-yard touchdown run by Doss with 8:53 left in the game, and Gross’ 40-yard run sealed the game and seven more days with his team.
Senior lineman Troy Mataia said he and his team have improved for each other.
“I think I’ve improved because I’ve got a reason,” he said. “These boys are my team. They’re my reason to keep going. To keep pushing for seven more days.”
For the former Rifle runningback and now head coach, Leyba is just looking forward to next week.
“It is stressful, but this is a relief,” he said. “I’m excited, I’m shaking. I’m proud of these guys.”
The Bears will take on the 8-3 Eaton Reds in the Colorado State Semi-Finals at Bears Stadium. Date and time to be determined. The Reds are the 15th seed and defeated number two Kent Denver in the first round and 10th-seeded Pagosa Springs 17-14 to advance to the semifinals.
Elsewhere, the No. 16 Glenwood Springs Demons lost 52-7 to No. 1 Green Mountain in the first round of the 3A playoffs on Saturday.
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