Bears, Bulldogs battle for a cause
RIFLE — The cause produced a greater good, a greater crowd and, by the hopes of some, a great thing that will carry on for years to come.
Alumni from Rifle High School played an alumni football game against longtime rival Palisade at Bears Stadium in from of a capacity crowd on Friday night. And the 20-0 victory for the Bulldogs seemed inconsequential considering that most of the proceeds from ticket and concession sales were going to a pair of families from Rifle who needed the support.
Partial proceeds from the preemptive ticket sales will be donated to the family of Amelia Zemlock, a 17-year-old Rifle High student-athlete who has been diagnosed with bone cancer. Other ticket proceeds will go to the family of former Rifle resident Larry Schaffer, a former member of the chain gang at Rifle High football games who died in a helicopter crash earlier this year.
Both were honored during a halftime ceremony by the standing-room-only crowd, which had overflowed onto the track on Palisade’s side of the field by the beginning of the second quarter. Zemlock, who was in a wheelchair, acknowledged the crowd with a big smile after it gave her a standing ovation. Meanwhile, Schaffer was recognized by a moment of silence.
The game was put on by Alumni Football USA, which hosts anywhere from 200 to 300 alumni football games annually.
The players on both sides spanned decades. Tony Copeland, a 1982 RHS grad, got to play football with his son, Alex, who graduated in 2012. On Palisade’s side, Cody Goletz, a 1984 graduate, was the oldest on the Bulldogs’ side. Also on the team were players like Jacob Wood, who was part of the Bulldogs’ run of four consecutive Class 3A state titles in the late 1990s.
The game was a stalemate during most of the first half, with neither team able to get much going on offense. Palisade took the lead for good on a special-teams play when 2005 graduate Jessie Kirstatter zig-zagged his way down the Bears Stadium south sideline for a 45-yard TD, crossing the goal line as the halftime horn sounded.
Palisade tacked on another TD with 3 minutes, 30 seconds remaining in the third quarter and took a 14-0 lead when 2003 grad Travis Bounds ran the ball in from 7 yards away, then ran in the ensuing two-point conversion. The Bulldogs capped the scoring when Tyler Barnes returned his interception of a Brock Hedberg pass 37 yards for a TD with 24 seconds gone in the fourth quarter.
Rifle was able to put some offense together in the final minutes and drove to the 24-yard line with seven-tenths of a second remaining in the game, but Hedberg’s pass to Taylor Webb in the end zone fell incomplete.
Rifle had a chance to take the lead early on when a long snap to Palisade punter Matt Popick sailed over his head, and he was tackled at the Bulldogs’ 15-yard line. But Rifle went three-and-out on its possession, and a field goal attempt from Javier Peralta, who graduated in 2012, was blocked.
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