A rivalry to end regular season
Can Rifle go undefeated?
It’s the most intriguing question surrounding tonight’s 3A Western Slope Conference football game between the Bears and the Glenwood Springs Demons when they kickoff at the Demons’ Stubler Memorial Field at 7 p.m.
“What a way to end the season – having a game against the No. 1 team in the state,” said Demon coach Craig Denney of the contest between the two longtime rivals.
If Rifle wins, it will be the first time in school history the Bears will have gone undefeated in regular season play. The closest Rifle has gotten to a perfect year was in 1974, when it finished the year at 9-1.
Moreover, a Bear victory on Friday would extend Rifle’s 11-year winning streak over Glenwood.
Should the 4-5 Demons post an upset victory over the state’s No. 1 team in Class 3A, they will be the first Glenwood team to defeat Rifle since 1990. Also, no WSC team has beaten Rifle this season or last season.
At first glance, Rifle appears to have a big advantage. But Rifle coach Darrel Gorham and Denney know anything can happen when the two rival schools square off.
“Kids are kids, and you want them to play good, solid football – that’s what we’ve been focusing on this week,” said Denney. “The emotion is going to be there. You have to harness that and use it to your advantage.”
Denney said Rifle deserves its No. 1 ranking, but said the Demons will be ready.
“Over the last couple of years we’ve been able to play Rifle pretty tough and our kids feel like they can play with them.”
Heading into tonight’s game, Gorham is wary of the Demons.
“Glenwood’s got good players, and they’re not going to lay down,” he said. “They are capable of upsetting anyone, and they are going to look at the game against us as their state playoff game.”
And, after Rifle’s big win over Montezuma-Cortez, the Demons hope to catch the Bears napping.
The 49-0 victory over the Panthers earned Rifle its second-straight Western Slope Conference title and a home game for next week’s opening round of the Class 3A state playoffs.
That won’t dull the Bears’ goal of running the table unbeaten, but they do have the playoffs to think about.
“We want to be the first Rifle team to be undefeated,” Gorham said. “But the big thing for us is to get through the game healthy so we’re ready for the playoffs.”
During the Bears unbeaten string this year, they did suffer a few hits to their depth.
Starting wide receiver Owen Madison went down with season-ending knee injury in the season-opener with Grand County, Utah.
And two weeks ago, in a JV game, kicker/backup quarterback Kyle Sanderson suffered a separated shoulder that could keep him on the shelf through the playoffs.
But, the bulk of the Bear attack remains intact.
“Rifle chugs down the field, and something we’ve got to do is try and stop that,” explained Denney.
That means halting Bear running back Troy Weiss – something that no team’s done for an entire game this year.
Weiss is the 3A state-leader in two offensive categories – rushing yards and touchdowns. The junior has carried the ball for 1,609 yards in nine games and scored 21 touchdowns.
“We’re going to going to try to take Weiss out of the game as best we can,” said Denney. “We’re trying to figure out what we can do to give us a good shot.”
Glenwood counters with sophomore Adam Vincent, who’s been among the state leaders in yards-per-carry and rushed for a season-high 280 yards in last week’s 33-14 nonleague win at Battle Mountain.
Passing-wise, the Demons have improved since Chris Toler took over the duties in the fourth game of the season from Mike Hoban. Hoban’s move to running back has also been beneficial, as he adds another weapon to the backfield.
In four starts, the sophomore has passed for touchdowns in three games.
“There’s no doubt that we can play with anybody in the league,” said Denney. “It’s just a matter of getting in the right spot at the right time. It’s fun, and the team’s excited about it.”
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