State titles are tough to come by
Special to the Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
It was a vast ocean of blue and gold. Loud, proud and, ultimately, disappointed.
In the midst of that proud group who ventured more than 200 miles to see Rifle High School make history was a burly man with scruffy crimson whiskers wearing a “77” Rifle Bears jersey from the past.
Andrew Stone, 25, closed his eyes in frustration as a Silver Creek defender snagged an interception late in the fourth.
“Defense wins championships,” he said.
Andrew Stone should know. He was part of the 2004 state title team for the Bears and played on the defensive line.
As torment and jubilation mingled at Legacy Stadium Saturday afternoon – an inevitable sight in every championship game in high school football – Bears fans did their best to console players after their only loss in an unbelievable season.
Kyle Sanderson, wearing his 2004 state champs sweatshirt, sought out Rifle quarterback Adam Rice.
The past and former Rifle quarterbacks shook hands and embraced. Players with a common position, but a far different end to their careers.
Rifle failed to bring home a fourth state football title, falling to Silver Creek, 32-15. It was a clear demonstration of how monumentally difficult it is to win a state title.
“It’s tough, no doubt,” said Rifle head coach Damon Wells. He was an assistant on the 2004 team and has now felt the disappointment of losing the title game in 2005 and 2012.
“It’s incredibly tough. But that’s what makes [winning a title] so special,” he added.
Special indeed. Difficult indeed. Tormenting for the 2012 Bears – definitely. State title for Silver Creek – priceless for them.
Stone’s stepbrother, Ira Kest, is on the team.
“I was hoping to add another state title to the family,” Stone said.
He wore his old No. 77 jersey hoping to bring some luck to the 2012 Bears.
“I guess it didn’t have any luck in it today,” he said without a smile.
“It’s tough,” he said about winning it all. A common and accurate theme of everyone who has come up short and who has won it all.
On the sidelines cheering on the Bears were former head coach Darrel Gorham and former assistant coach and Rifle graduate Chris Cline.
They know what it’s like to fail and succeed. They know the torment, disappointment and jubilation.
Gorham led the Bears to the 2004 title, while Cline’s talented Elizabeth squad beat Glenwood Springs in 2010.
They both use the same exact words: “It’s tough.”
The memories will live forever, but they will be vastly different memories if you win or lose that final game.
Stone remembers every detail of that final game – a 7-6 win over Sterling. It was one of the greatest days of his life, he says.
“About once a year, I pull out the highlight tape and watch it. We were a band of brothers with one focus, one goal, and we didn’t blink or give up,” he said.
He recalls his favorite moment. As the game hung in the balance, he busted through the line and tackled a ball carrier for a three-yard loss.
“It was a backside trap … ” Stone said, revealing every minute detail.
The next play, Rifle’s defense forced the fifth Sterling turnover and the crown belonged to the Bears.
Sanderson remembers his final kneel-down, then chaotic jubilation.
The 2012 Bears were also a band of brothers with a common goal. But their dream of a perfect ending to a perfect season was shattered.
On Saturday, the Bears claimed the consolation prize and the torment of “what if.” A torment felt by so many in the final game of the season.
Wells feels the torment and feels for his players and fans.
“I wish like crazy that I could have done something to affect the outcome in a more positive way,” he said with the scoreboard’s haunting result still displayed in the background. “But, ultimately, I’m proud to be associated with these kids, I’m proud to be from Rifle.”
He glanced at that scoreboard that still had the 32-15 final score displayed.
As the undefeated, No. 1-ranked team coming in, hopes were soaring for Rifle. But Silver Creek dreamed of a title, too.
“It’s tough, but that’s life. There are no guarantees,” Wells said.
Rifle ends with one of the greatest seasons in school history. Just one loss, but it was the final game of the season.
Senior Eli Boone played his final game for the Bears. The big lineman was humble and poetic as he talked about Saturday’s battle.
“I’m proud of my team, we worked hard,” he said. “Silver Creek is a good team, they did things well today. They are a good opponent, congratulations to them.”
It was a special day for Silver Creek.
A tough day for the Rifle Bears.
That’s life. You win some and you lose some.
Sometimes second place is as good as it gets.
Dale Shrull is a freelance writer for the Post Independent.
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