Bears focus on execution, toughness
RIFLE – Execution with toughness.Rifle has converted those traits into 12 straight state football playoff appearances – along with being an annual contender for a slot in the Class 3A championship game.Even though the Bears have drawn a familiar opponent in Elizabeth for today’s Class 3A, first-round playoff contest, the formula that’s propelled Rifle toward two decades of postseason success, said head coach Damon Wells, is not about to change.”To us, the most important thing about any opponent in the playoffs is ‘Who cares who the opponent is?’ Because our focus is us,” he said. “If we execute, things should work out in our favor, if we don’t, they shouldn’t work out in our favor, quite frankly.” And when it comes to executing what it wants to do on the gridiron, Rifle’s successful.
Make that very successful.Over the past two seasons, seasons that include winning the 2004 3A state title and a repeat championship game appearance last year, the Bears have won seven of their last eight playoff games.When Rifle hosts a playoff contest, the odds swat heavily toward the Bears. Of the six postseason games held at Bears Stadium the last two seasons, Rifle’s won five of them.Playing in and against Western Slope Conference opponents weekly, Wells said, makes a team tough for playoffs.”The Western Slope League mirrors the playoffs in one regard – in there are no easy weeks. And there are no off weeks. The playoffs, (are) just like the Western Slope chase again.”
One factor Rifle has improved on dramatically in conference play is passing.In the Bears’ last two WSC contests, quarterback Derek Fruetel has thrown a touchdown pass. A factor that makes Rifle’s already tough-to-stop rushing game more lethal. “I think we’re throwing the ball a heck of a lot better. I believe in the past two games we’re 12-of-22 for nearly 200 yards passing,” Wells said. Running-wise, senior Tyler Thompson, despite missing two mid-year games with a concussion, has rushed for more than 1,500 yards. Thompson’s backfield partner Colby McFarlin has also posted big numbers this year.In a crucial match against Palisade, McFarlin scored the game-winning touchdown on a 55-yard run – his longest single gain of the year – while posting a game-high 103 yards in 12 carries.
Elizabeth, winners of its last three straight Metro Conference games, also has a top-notch runner in its backfield. Mitch Johnson, a junior, has rushed for 1,527 yards and 17 touchdowns according to Colorado Preps.The 4-6 Cardinals are making their seventh straight playoff appearance. Last year, after defeating Silver Creek in the first round, Elizabeth, lost 35-14 at Bears Stadium.”The fact (we’re playing) Elizabeth, that’s OK,” Wells said. “The only Catch 22 with it is Elizabeth is coached by Chris Cline. He’s a good friend and a good football coach.”Prior to taking the job as Elizabeth’s head coach seven years ago, Cline was Rifle’s defensive coordinator for Darryl Gorham. Gorham, resigned his post at RHS two years ago and has since become the head football coach at Class 5A Highlands Ranch High School.While the focus is on beating Cline’s Cardinals for the second time in as many playoff appearances, Wells admitted to having mixed emotions. “If we’re successful, it stinks that a friend is going to be disappointed. And if we’re not successful, we’re going to be happy for Chris,” he said.
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After losing the 3A Western Slope League race in a tough, five-set loss to Basalt on April 15, the Coal Ridge High volleyball team finds its playoff fate partly out of its own hands.