Undersized Bears come up big
Special for the Post Independent
RIFLE, Colorado – For the Rifle Bears defense, size isn’t important. They know that whatever team lines up across from them, Rifle will be the undersized team.
“Every team we play is going to be bigger,” junior linebacker Cody Beauford said. “That doesn’t matter to us, we’re just going to go out and play hard.”
Conspicuously absent from the Rifle roster is the player’s size. But when Beauford and Alex Copeland take their inside linebacker spots, they appear to be more suited to be in the secondary.
After the hard-fought, physical 14-7 victory, Rifle made another statement about size.
It’s not the size of the Bear in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the Bear.
Early in the third quarter, Copeland darted through the line and popped the Roosevelt running back.
The ball popped loose and a Rifle teammate popped on the ball.
The play didn’t lead to any points for Rifle but it shifted the field position battle on a windy afternoon at Bears Stadium.
Beauford was all over the field, dodging larger lineman, making tackles and swarming to the ball with his teammates.
The Rifle defense spent the entire second half clawing and digging in, trying to hold off the Rough Riders in the first round of the Class 3A playoffs.
Oversized at nearly every position, Copeland and Beauford led the way on Saturday.
“Those two inside guys really make our defense go. They had a pretty darn good game,” defensive coordinator and Rifle alum Anthony Alfini said. “We know we’re undersized but we know that we have to just get the job done.”
With a resilient, tough-minded blue collar mentality, Rifle moved to 11-0 on the season and lived to play another game.
In the third, Beauford pounced on another fumble to stop a Roosevelt drive but Rifle couldn’t find a rhythm on offense.
To begin the fourth, Roosevelt found its rhythm and pounded home a 69-yard drive on eight runs to cut the lead to 14-7.
In Roosevelt’s final drive, the Rifle defense secured the win.
Defensive back Kellin Leigh drilled a Roosevelt runner after a short gain, then A.J. Cordova shoved receiver Marcus Holguin out of bounds after another short gain, setting up a third-and-5 from the Rifle 48.
Roosevelt quarterback Spencer Urban rolled right, stopped and rifled a pass down field to the left, but Leigh wasn’t fooled. The sophomore was in perfect position to knock down the pass.
On fourth down, Copeland pounded the nails into the Roosevelt coffin with a stop just short of the first down.
“We knew they were going to punch us in the face,” Copeland said about the smashmouth run-first philosophy of the Rough Riders. “We knew we just had to punch them back.”
Undersized doesn’t mean overmatched.
In the end, Rifle held Roosevelt’s potent running game to 226 yards with 69 yards coming on the one scoring drive.
The Bears anticipated that they were going to be in for a supreme physical test.
“This was one of the most physical games I’ve ever played,” Beauford said.
For Alfini, the first round game was an eerie reminder of his senior year at Rifle. In 2002, Rifle won the league and entered the playoffs at 10-0. Then they lost in the first round.
“We had Anthony Alfini address the team on Monday,” head coach Damon Wells said. “He told his story and his emotions about what it was like to go 10-0 and lose in the first round.”
With the 14-7 win, the focus now shifts to round two.
Wells said the team has embraced the motto of “seven more days.”
“We love being together. Our reward for making the playoffs was one more week together. Our reward for winning this playoff game is one more week together,” he said.
For these 11-0 Bears, hibernation can wait for at least one more week.
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Visual Journalist Chelsea Self can be reached at 970-384-9108 or firstname.lastname@example.org