Bears roll to 22-point win over visiting Lobos
An early start time for the second straight week didn’t phase the Rifle Bears’ football team Friday night, as the experienced group clicked on both sides of the ball, rolling to a 42-20 win over the visiting Conifer Lobos at Bears Stadium.
One week after topping Kennedy on the road, the Bears returned home to dismantle the Lobos, pushing their record to 4-1 on the season with 3A Western Slope League play right around the corner.
“We stuck to the game plan that we came up with at the beginning of the week, and we executed it,” Rifle assistant coach Jeremy O’Donnell said. “They did some things to us defensively that we weren’t quite ready for, but with our planning and the way we run things, it really wasn’t a big deal. We put up 42 points today and moved the ball consistently.”
Against the Lobos, junior Joel Lopez got the scoring started for Rifle, giving the Bears an early 7-0 lead in the first quarter on an end-around before Conifer tight end Andrew Wood hauled in a touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback JR Hart to pull the Lobos to within one, 7-6, after one quarter of play at Bears Stadium.
As the sun fell behind the mountain and the temperatures dropped, the Rifle offense heated up.
On the first drive of the second quarter, sophomore running back Levi Warfel found pay dirt just two plays into the quarter, sprinting around the right end for a 19-yard touchdown to extend Rifle’s lead to 14-6 early in the second quarter. Following Warfel’s touchdown, the Lobos responded quickly, as a heavy dose of sophomore running back Sam Dunivan and senior running back Kasim Rana marched the Lobos down the field, highlighted by a 65-yard burst from Rana to put Conifer in the red zone. Two plays later, backup quarterback Antonio Lucero found senior wide receiver Seth Sankey from two yards out to pull within two points at 14-12. A 2-point attempt by Lucero came up short, giving possession back to Rifle with 8:29 left in the second quarter of a high-scoring game.
Rifle didn’t waste much time on its second drive of the second quarter, marching 62 yards in five plays before junior Tanner Vines burst up the gut for a 45-yard touchdown, giving the Bears a 21-12 lead with 5:18 left in the second quarter.
The Bears’ defense buckled down on Conifer’s next possession, forcing a punt from near midfield. A terrific punt by Conifer pinned the Bears at their own 5-yard line, but the flipped field position couldn’t slow a red-hot Rifle offense before the half. The Bears marched 95 yards, highlighted by a 28-yard run from senior Camron Shepherd and a 20-yard pass from senior quarterback Luke Ellis to Shepherd, before the senior running back capped off the impressive drive with a 5-yard plunge, giving the Bears a 28-12 lead with just 44 seconds left in the half.
“The way our offense runs, it could be any one kid that has a big night,” O’Donnell said. “Our offensive line does a great job and we got some big runs from Camron, Tanner, Levi and Joel tonight. I was really pleased with the job the offense did as a whole.”
Heading into the half with a 16-point lead, the Bears looked ready to come out for the second half and put the game away.
Conifer had other ideas, at least for one drive.
Opening up the second with possession near midfield off of a short kickoff from the Bears, Conifer covered 56 yards in 11 plays as Rana found pay dirt from seven yards out. A bad snap on the ensuing extra point attempt actually worked in Conifer’s favor as holder Sam Horneck raced around the right end for the 2-point conversion, making it 28-20 Rifle with 8:22 left in the third quarter.
The Bears wasted no time responding with a score of their own as Vines found the end zone for the second time on the night, this time from 12 yards out to make it 35-20 Rifle with 4:40 left in the quarter.
Looking to pull away for good, the Rifle defense stood tall on Conifer’s next drive, forcing a turnover on downs deep in their own territory and giving the ball back to the Rifle offense one more time.
Rifle covered 78 yards in methodical fashion as Vines rushed for 16 and 28 yards, while Ellis found Shepherd for 16 yards, setting up Vines’ third touchdown of the night, this time from four yards out to give the Bears a 42-20 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
Down 22 points late in the game, Conifer was forced to take to the air, and that played right into Rifle’s hands as senior cornerback Clay Bumgardner stepped in front of a Hart throw along the right sideline, sealing the win for the Bears.
“Defensively, we just had mental mistakes early in the game,” O’Donnell said. “We had them right where we wanted them a couple of times in fourth down and long, but just had a kid make a mental mistake. But after that the kids were able to shut it down by getting away from the mental mistakes and reading our keys, and you saw that on the last drive.”
Sitting at 4-1 on the season, Rifle begins 3A Western Slope League play Friday on the road at the Battle Mountain Huskies. Kick-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.
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Local teams just missed out on qualifying for state as teams but will be sending individual representatives following Friday’s regional meets.