Bears maul Lobos in quarterfinal
GSPI Sports Editor
RIFLE ” There will be no Thanksgiving break for the Rifle High School football team this year. And, judging by the smiles that spread from the stands to the field Saturday at Bears Stadium, that’s just fine with the team members and fans.
Rifle ” powered by quick starts in both the first half and the second half and six turnovers ” downed Conifer 38-22 in a Class 3A quarterfinal game here. The victory gives the Bears their first berth in the semifinals of the state playoffs since 1974.
Although it was a 30-year wait for a semifinal spot, Rifle (9-3) didn’t waste any time jumping all over Conifer (10-2). The first minute went better for the Bears than any of the coaches could have hoped.
On the second play from scrimmage Conifer’s Sam Loeblein fumbled and Rifle’s Zach LaCount was on the ball for the Bears, just 26 yards from the end zone.
Rocky Rauman covered that span on the next play.
The senior running back took the handoff and had gaping holes all the way to the goal line.
“Untouched,” said Rauman, who had 101 of his 119 yards in the first half, of the play. “There were good blocks up front and all the way to the end zone.”
With Kyle Sanderson’s successful kick, the Bears had a 7-0 lead less than a minute into the contest ” a lead they wouldn’t relinquish ” and some of the playoff pressure immediately lifted.
“I just knew the kids have been working awfully hard,” Rifle head coach Darrel Gorham said. “We’ve been pretty fortunate with that stuff and those are the kinds of breaks you need” in the playoffs.
“It helps out a lot,” Rifle lineman Jeff Zimmerman said. “It boosts everyone.”
Zimmerman helped boost the team a little more on the Lobos’ next drive.
Conifer answered with a 10-play, 80-yard scoring drive, capped by an 8-yard Stephen Penta quarterback keeper to cut the lead to 7-6. Zimmerman kept it that way when he got his big mitt on the point-after attempt.
Both teams had ample opportunities to take advantage of miscues, particularly in the first quarter half when the ball seemed like a wet ice cube on the chilly day. Including LaCount’s recovery, each team lost two fumbles in the first quarter.
In the second quarter, after a 28-yard Sanderson field goal, the Bears recovered their third fumble of the half at midfield and converted it into points three minutes with a 1-yard Casie Dunlap plunge for a 17-6 advantage with 2:09 left in the first half.
Conifer again answered the touchdown with a touchdown of their own as Penta engineered a 79-yard drive while going 3-for-4 passing for 72 yards. The drive took just over a minute and gave the Lobos momentum as Conifer headed into the intermission down only a field goal after a successful two-point conversion.
The momentum shift didn’t last long.
On the half’s opening kickoff Rifle’s Bryce Enewold muffed the return, but had the presence of mind to gather it without going down. A couple of jukes and 91 yards later, the Bears again had a comfortable 10-point lead and the rout was on.
The next three Conifer drives ended in Rifle interceptions ” all coming in the Bears’ end of the field. Dunlap picked off Penta on the 2-yard line, Travis Jensen intercepted a screen at the 41 and John Alderson pulled in his pick at the 46.
During that time, Sanderson decided to take over with a 38-yard quarterback keeper touchdown and a 1-yard sneak for a 38-14 Rifle lead. The senior finished with 45 yards rushing and 90 yards passing. He was 3-for-4 passing in the second half.
Conifer scored the game’s final touchdown with 2:16 left in the game for the 38-22 final.
“We’ve been doing the same thing” all season, Gorham said. “Up front we’re doing a good job and the kids just keep playing all out.”
Rifle travels to Niwot next week to play the unbeaten Cougars (12-0) in the semifinals. Niwot downed Moffat County (10-2) by a 22-12 margin in Craig Saturday.
“We’re excited now,” Rauman said. “Starting on Monday, we’ve got to get going again.”
– In other Class 3A playoff action, Palisade (12-0) downed Englewood 26-18 and Sterling (9-3) shut out previously undefeated Centaurus (11-1), 19-0.
In Class 2A semifinal play, Holy Family got by Eaton 13-7 and Faith Christian blew out Brush 40-18.
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