Rifle wins rumble of valley rivals
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
RIFLE, Colorado – It was more of a calculated gamble than a mere roll of the dice.
After all, running the football is what Rifle High School does best.
On fourth-and-3 from the 5-yard line late in the fourth quarter, the Bears went for it.
And Brandon Kittle and the offensive line delivered. The speedy senior took off around the right edge and didn’t stop until he reached the end zone.
Kittle’s score put Rifle ahead 32-21 with 2 minutes, 19 seconds remaining. A few minutes later, the host Bears were celebrating a 32-27 win over rival Glenwood Springs – and a perfect regular season.
“This is Rifle High School,” Bears head coach Damon Wells said. “We run the football. If we can’t gain three yards to go 10-0 against Glenwood – that’s the reason why we run the football, to try to gain three yards when it really matters. … Our kids made it go.”
As they have all season long.
Friday’s win delivered Rifle its first undefeated regular season since 2002. The Bears wrapped up their first 3A Western Slope League title since that same year with last week’s 36-33 win over Palisade.
“I thought we’d do good, but winning the league championship and going 10-0 didn’t cross my mind,” said Bears senior linebacker A.J. Cordova, who recovered an onside kick with 30 seconds remaining that sealed the win. “We just wanted to play hard, and we did.”
Junior Ryan Moeller finished with 242 yards and two touchdowns on 41 carries for Rifle. Just three minutes into the game and on the Bears’ first offensive possession, the workhorse back took a pitch, sprinted around the edge and up the left sideline for the game’s first score. The run, which measured 57 yards, came just three minutes into the game.
A 36-yard field goal by Marco Gutierrez pushed the Bears’ lead to 9-0 two minutes into the second quarter.
Glenwood responded with its only points of the first half on the ensuing drive. Quarterback Travis Lundin rushed for a 1-yard score to cap an 80-yard march.
Rifle quarterback Adam Rice responded by connecting with Taylor Webb on a 73-yard passing play that set Moeller up for his second TD of the night. Moeller registered runs of 10 and 2 yards to punctuate a three-play drive.
After a Webb interception gave the Bears the ball back just moments later, Rifle made it 23-7 on a 29-yard rushing score by Aaron Wagler, who cruised into the end zone on a reverse with 6:01 left in the second quarter.
Gutierrez booted a 33-yard field goal through as halftime expired to make it 26-7 at the half.
Glenwood closed the gap in the second half, scoring two straight TDs – the first a Lundin pass to Cam Avery from 19 yards out late in the third quarter and the second an 80-yard pass from running back Henry Hill to Auston Tribble early in the fourth.
That tightened the score at 26-21 and set the stage for Kittle’s fateful run.
The Demons, who finished their season with a 5-5 record, made it close late with a 74-yard score on a dump-off pass from Lundin to Hill, but Cordova’s onside kick recovery with just under 30 seconds put Glenwood away.
“Tonight, in my mind, all these kids are winners,” Demons head coach Rocky Whitworth said. “Coming back, to get that close, says a lot about them. Even at the end, with that 30 seconds, I would have used every second of it to get in the end zone if we had gotten that onside kick.”
Lundin, a sophomore, led the Demons with 257 yards and two TDs on 18-of-23 passing. Tribble finished with 128 yards on six catches. Mike Mills had 71 yards on six grabs and Hill had 109 yards on three receptions.
Hill, a sophomore, also had 59 rushing yards on 13 carries and that 80-yard TD toss.
Kittle finished with 48 yards rushing on 11 carries and Rice had 117 yards on 4-of-6 passing. Webb had two catches and 102 yards receiving for the Bears, who open the 3A state playoffs at home next weekend.
The Colorado High School Activities Association will release its 16-team bracket on Sunday.
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