Bears pounce on Panthers
RIFLE — No turnover trouble and no miscues could quite possibly make a return trip to the Class 3A state playoffs no problem for the Rifle High School football team.
Brock Clark rushed for 204 yards on just seven carries and Kellin Leigh added 167 yards on the ground, and the 10th-ranked Bears broke the game open with their trademark big-play capabilities with a 52-27 victory over the seventh-ranked Delta Panthers on Friday night.
The Bears (7-2 overall, 6-1 Class 3A Western Slope League), who needed a victory headed into the game to boost their postseason prospects, pulled away after the Panthers (6-3, 5-2 league) closed to within two scores in the middle of the third quarter. In all, Rifle racked up 506 rushing yards and had 10 rushing plays of more than 20 yards.
Delta quarterback Cade Gafford finished 25-for-41 passing for 283 yards and two touchdowns to pace the Panthers, but Rifle’s defensive backfield bottled him up at the beginning of the game. The Delta junior was only 8-of-19 passing for 68 yards in the first half and, at one point, Rifle forced seven consecutive incompletions.
The Bears combined for seven turnovers in losses to Palisade and Conifer earlier this month. On Friday night, Rifle never fumbled, and its front offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage through much of the night.
Rifle seized momentum at the beginning of the second quarter when Bears lineman Zach Bare blocked a punt from Gafford, setting Rifle up at the Delta 25. On the ensuing Rifle play from scrimmage, Leigh swept off tackle to the left and into the endzone for a 14-0 Bears lead after the point-after kick from Eduardo Sandoval.
The Bears went up 21-0 on their first drive of the third quarter when Bailey Hoffmeister, rushing on a fourth-and-3 play, zig-zagged through Delta’s defense for a 40-yard touchdown run. Delta pulled within 21-6 on a 4-yard TD run from Tyler Sandoval on the Panthers’ next possession, but Rifle answered right back when, after an incomplete halfback pass from Brooks Pressler, Leigh broke through the front line and sprinted 80 yards for a score with 7:11 on the clock.
Delta didn’t go away, though, as a 15-yard TD pass from Gafford to Kory Mills pulled the Panthers within 28-13 after the point-after kick from Kole Roberts. But a big play from Rifle followed on the Bears’ next possession, as Clark broke for 62 yards to set up a 1-yard TD run from Javier Nunez.
And after the Panthers turned the ball over on downs at their own 29 after a fake-punt pass from Gafford failed, Leigh found the endzone again from 29 yards away to give the Bears a 42-13 cushion to essentially seal it.
Rifle also limited Jonny Pounce, Delta’s sophomore running back who came into the game with 1,059 rushing yards. Pounce finished with 89 yards on 25 carries, with only 52 of those coming in the first half.
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As the heat of the summer gives way to cooler mornings, summer trail race opportunities are slowly coming to an end.