Bears, Longhorns set for Week 0 matchup
As the temperatures cool, school gets back into full swing and it starts getting darker in the evening faster, that can only mean one thing: Football is right around the corner.
While four of the five high schools in Garfield County don’t start their football seasons until Sept. 1, the Rifle Bears and head coach Damon Wells get things started a week early with a Week 0 matchup against the Basalt Longhorns at Bears Stadium in Rifle.
Last season, the two teams met in a Week 0 matchup at Basalt, in which the Bears used a big second-half surge to pull away for a 48-34 win on the road. Rifle rushed for more than 400 yards in the win, while Basalt threw for nearly 300, resulting in an intense shootout to start the season under the Friday night lights.
“I don’t think there’s anything specific that we learned from that game last year,” Wells said. “I just think we’ve worked really hard to get the right kids in the right spots this year, so hopefully that leads to better results for us this time around.”
Both teams will look much different Friday night as standouts from last season’s game such as Rifle’s Blaine Vance, Drake Montgomery and Alex Cordova moved on due to graduation, while Basalt’s top-notch quarterback, Miles Levy, and impressive receiver Kyle Roberts graduated as well.
Losing such key pieces shouldn’t phase either team, though, as Wells and Basalt head coach Carl Frerichs run exceptional programs that develop talent quite well. New faces such as Tanner Vines and Cam Shepherd for Rifle, as well as Noah Williams and Trevor Reuss will look to make an immediate impact in the Week 0 matchup at Bears Stadium.
Speaking with Wells at a recent practice, the veteran head coach emphasized that each Rifle team has a shelf life of one year, so this is a new season and a new group for the Bears, regardless of who is returning from last season. Dealing with 15-, 16-, and 17-year old kids can make it tricky when coming up with expectations for how a team will or will not react come the start of the game.
“I don’t know what to expect from the kids,” Wells said. “I’d love to tell you what my personal expectations are, but I don’t think it really matters, because every one of those kids out there is unique and have their own set of circumstances they’re dealing with in their own lives. But I sure hope we’ve done everything we possibly can to be ready for displaying tremendous effort. The level of excitement with this group is the same as every other group in the sense that, this is the only first game of the season this group will ever play, and we’re very mindful of that.
“I’m looking to see what level of effort this group puts forth when there’s a little bit of adversity between those lines. We’ve been playing ourselves for the last few weeks now, so there will be resistance [when Basalt comes into town], and I’m interested to see how this group responds.”
Senior center/defensive end Wyatt Warfel and senior guard/linebacker Ramon Salvidrez played in the game at Basalt last year and played a key role in opening up running room for Vance, Montgomery and then-junior Brandon Fletchall, so there’s some familiarity there with the offensive line and middle of the defense, but with new playmakers on the other side of the ball for the Longhorns, last season’s game has to be thrown out the window.
That won’t stop Salvidrez from trying to learn something from the defense’s performance last season.
“We’ve mostly focused on the points where they hurt us the most last year,” Salvidrez said. “A big emphasis was on the passing game, because they do a lot of boot action. We’ve scouted them out pretty good, and we feel we’ve fixed some things from last season. We’re not going to be able to completely shut them down, because there’s going to be completions and holes, but we’re going to do everything we possibly can to not let what happened last year happen again.”
After two weeks of hot weather and long practices against one another in drills, the Bears are chomping at the bit to get after the Longhorns to start the 2017 season on their home field. Getting off to a good start would be a good step in the right direction for a team with a lot of talent to go along with league and state playoff aspirations.
“I think this team is very excited to get going,” Warfel said. “We’ve been practicing hard these last few weeks, and it feels like a long time. We finally get the chance to show what we’ve worked hard for. Me personally, I’m excited to get back after it and get the season going.”
Kickoff at Bears Stadium is scheduled for 7 p.m.