Rifle Bears are still running strong as 3A football playoffs begin
Citizen Telegram Sports Editor
Who: No. 11 Rifle at No. 6 Coronado
What: First round of the Class 3A state football playoffs
When: 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 9
Where: Gerry Berry Stadium, Colorado Springs
How they got here: Rifle (8-2) lost only to playoff teams Palisade and Conifer during the regular season, but the Bears had an easy time during their regular-season wins, save a 13-7 victory at Glenwood Springs in week three. Coronado won its first nine games of the season before falling to Discovery Canyon, 24-20, this past Saturday.
What’s next: The winner of Saturday’s game will play either No. 3-seeded Roosevelt or No. 14 Frederick in the state quarterfinals.
No Ryan Moeller?
No set-in-stone, go-to guy on offense.
No problem, says the Rifle High School football team.
Rifle’s vaunted running attack has always prided itself on distributing the workload to multiple running backs. It’s especially proven true in 2013, as Rifle has generated 40 yards of total offense more than it did during the 2012 season, when it reached the Class 3A state championship game.
The Bears have managed to do it with a diverse group of four running backs – Javier Nunez, Brock Clark, Kellin Leigh and Bailey Hoffmeister – who have accounted for most of Rifle’s rushing yardage. That quartet will have a chance to keep performing on Saturday, when the 11th-seeded Bears (8-2) play at sixth-seeded Coronado (9-1) in the first round of the Class 3A state playoffs.
“It opens up our playbook a little bit more when we potentially have four backs that can hurt our opponent’s defense,” Rifle running backs coach Korey Cramor said. “Obviously, last year if we were in trouble, we’d give Moeller the ball. That was our security blanket. This year, we feel comfortable giving any one of those kids the ball in a clutch situation.”
All of Rifle’s running backs have been productive this season, and each has their own specific skill set that has helped the offense continue to churn out yardage in a big way. It was that way to a lesser degree last year, thanks to Moeller, who finished the Bears’ 14-game campaign with 3,002 rushing yards and 43 rushing touchdowns. He’s now a redshirt freshman playing football for the University of Colorado.
This year’s Rifle team, however, has amassed 3,658 rushing yards, just 9 yards less than the Bears’ total of 3,667 at the end of the 2012 regular season. And this season, Bears junior quarterback Layton Stutsman has 562 passing yards, which is more than the 513 passing yards Rifle entered the playoffs with last year.
“I think that even though we did lose Moeller, we knew that we had to get the ball into the end zone from all sorts of different angles,” said senior running back Kellin Leigh, whose 1,150 rushing yards and 18 rushing touchdowns leads the team. “We have no problem sharing the ball, because we all want the same thing in the end.”
Along with Leigh, Nunez has 886 yards and 10 touchdown runs, and Clark has amassed 859 yards with 10 TDs. Hoffmeister’s 280 rushing yards is significantly smaller, but he’s still rushed for 11.2 yards per carry in the limited times he has been handed the ball.
Even Stutsman has put together 200 rushing yards this season, but the junior quarterback’s primary job is to determine how to distribute the rushes and which running back will be the most effective in a particular situation.
For Stutsman, that’s a nice problem to have.
“I feel confident with anyone I hand the ball to,” Stutsman said. “I know that whoever gets the ball, they’ll be able to get the job done.”
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