Bears look to extend streak against ‘Dogs
Post Independent Staff
Each time Rifle and Palisade meet on the gridiron, it seems something big is riding on the final outcome.
Such is the case at 7 p.m. tonight when the Bears and Bulldogs square off at Stocker Stadium in Grand Junction.
The last time the two teams met, Sept. 19, Rifle won 35-14. The victory was a key factor in Rifle’s obtaining the Class 3A’s lone wild-card playoff spot. It was also the only blemish on an otherwise perfect season for Palisade.
This time around, there is more at stake.
The winner advances to next week’s Class 3A state quarterfinals. The losing team turns in its equipment for the year.
Considering a wild-card team has to travel for the first round, Rifle head coach Darrel Gorham is pleased about the Bears only needing 45 minutes to reach their playoff destination.
“We enjoy playing at Stocker,” Gorham said. “The kids are pumped up and there’s no pressure on us.
“We’re a wild-card team and Palisade is No. 2 in the state, and Palisade’s had a hard time beating us in football at any level ” varsity, JV or freshman.”
Recent history proves Gorham right. The Bears varsity squad has won the last three games, dating back to 2001. In the previous meeting at Stocker, in 2002, Rifle defeated the Bulldogs 34-31 in overtime.
On Friday, Rifle hopes to continue that winning streak.
And, so far as having key personnel available, the scales are tipped favorably toward the Bears.
Running back Troy Weiss did not play in the earlier game this season due to an ankle injury. After a slow healing process, Weiss has regained the form that made him an all-state rusher last season.
In last week’s 29-6 win over Glenwood Springs, the Bears senior rushed for a season-best 139 yards and scored twice.
Meanwhile, 9-1 Palisade, the 3A Western Slope Conference regular-season championship, has lost some key players since the teams last played.
Victor Green, the Bulldogs starting tight end/running back/linebacker, suffered a season-ending back injury against Glenwood Springs.
Jason Popick, another key runner, has been on the shelf with a broken ankle since Week 4.
A huge factor in Friday’s rematch, according Gorham, will be which team’s offense can maintain ball control and execute.
“Those are huge,” the coach said. “We have to make sure we can control the ball and limit turnovers (on offense),” Gorham said.
Both teams are well-equipped when it comes to running the ball.
Rifle back Marcus Carrion has produced big numbers. Given the role as the Bears’ primary runner most of the year, the Bears senior has averaged a team-high 6.1 yards-per-carry.
Weiss, in a limited role, has racked up 609 yards and a 5.7 average to date.
Offensively, Palisade is led by running back Kyle Britton (1,220 rushing yards, 8.4 average) and quarterback Dustin Harris (35-of-75 for 757 yards passing).
When called upon, Rifle quarterback Kyle Sanderson has been just as successful throwing the ball.
The senior is right behind Palisade’s quarterback among the 3A state leaders in passing yardage (734), and completions (51-of-95).
In September’s win against Palisade, Sanderson was 15-of-21 passing for 148 yards and one touchdown.
The winner of Friday’s game faces the winner of Saturday’s Elizabeth at Fountain-Fort Carson contest.
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Rifle High School wrestling won its matchup with Glenwood Springs Tuesday at the Glenwood triangular, while the Palisade Bulldogs took down both local teams.