Bears ride powerful running game to blowout win
In football terminology, a team talks about imposing their will on their opponent.
Well, the Rifle Bears (5-1, 1-1) did just that Friday, running rampant on the Grand Junction Central Warriors behind three 100-yard performances from running backs Ty Leyba, Tyler Bosshardt and Blaine Vance in the Bears’ 56-26 4A Western Slope League win.
Right from the start the Bears offense had tons of success moving the ball on the ground, thanks to their powerful offensive line, led by seniors Joe Kosht and Gage Johnston.
On the Bears’ opening drive, Bosshardt, Leyba and Vance took turns carrying the ball until Leyba broke multiple tackles on his way to a 35-yard touchdown to put the Bears on the board.
Leyba added the two-point conversion to give Rifle an 8-0 lead just under six minutes into the first quarter.
From there, the Bears offensive line simply took the game over.
After forcing a Warriors three-and-out following Leyba’s touchdown, Rifle went back to work on the ground. Following a 33-yard run by Vance on the first play of the drive, Leyba carried the ball three times to end the drive — the final carry going for a 10-yard touchdown. The senior running back added the two-point conversion to make it 16-0 with 3:40 left in the first quarter.
On their heels due to the power of the Bears’ running game, the Warriors needed a spark to get back into the game.
They got just that on the ensuing kickoff as Darrion Alton found a seam and raced 82 yards for the score, making it 16-6 with just over three minutes left to go in a wild first quarter.
Not to be outdone by Alton’s big play, Bosshardt then answered with a 53-yard touchdown on the Bears’ first offensive play following the kick return to stretch their lead to 24-6 before the first quarter was over.
Once again, the offensive line just overpowered the Warriors front seven on the play, resulting in a big hole for Bosshardt to burst through.
“It’s always important for us [to have the offensive line dominate], especially with what we want to do,” Rifle head coach Damon Wells said. “The kids rose to the challenge tonight and we couldn’t be prouder of their effort up front.”
Just four plays later following a short kickoff, the Warriors found the end zone as quarterback EJ Barrera found a wide-open Noah Galyon for a 22-yard touchdown to pull the Warriors to within 12 before the end of the first quarter.
Following two drives that didn’t muster any points, the Bears then turned to Vance and Bosshardt after a 16-yard punt return by Leyba to set Rifle up in great field position.
Vance took the first carry of the drive up the middle for 14 yards down to the Warriors 11-yard line. From there, Bosshardt took the counter off the right side for the score. He added another two-point conversion to make it 32-12.
After another handful of drives by both teams that didn’t amount to points, the Warriors turned to a familiar connection once again to narrow the Bears lead.
Facing a 3rd and 12 from Rifle’s 26-yard line, Barrera found Galyon for 16 yards to make it 1st and Goal. On the very next play Barrera once again found a wide-opne Galyon for the 10-yard strike, which would be the final offensive touchdown the Warriors would score all night, thanks to a stingy Bears defense.
“We played a pretty good defensive game,” Leyba said. “But we still have a lot of mistakes we need to clean up. Our defense is playing tough, so it’s about getting better each week, and we did that tonight.”
As the Bears defense held the Warriors offense in check all night, Rifle’s offense was able to stick to the ground-and-pound offense, melting the clock in the process.
Just before halftime Bosshardt added his third touchdown of the half, this one a 63-yard sprint to make it 38-20.
In the second half, neither team was able to find the end zone in the third quarter.
However, the fourth quarter started with a bang as the Bears were able to bring down Central’s punter following a fumbled long snap at the Warriors’ 9-yard line.
Two plays later Leyba scored his third touchdown of the game to make it 44-20, Rifle.
“It wasn’t about us [running backs] tonight,” Leyba said. “All those yards and all those touchdowns go to the guys up front. They deserve the credit. They did all of the hard work for us and set everything up for the running backs.”
In a moment of deja’ vu following the Bears’ score, Central’s Tristan Dorrington returned the ensuing kickoff 85 yards for the score to pull the Warriors to within 18.
But not to be outdone, the Bears turned to their workhorse in Vance, who carried the ball seven straight times before plunging into the end zone from 1-yard out to ice the game for the Bears.
It didn’t matter who carried the ball for Rifle on the night thanks to the performance up front by the offensive line. With all three running backs having success, it made it easier for Wells and his staff to ride the hot hand as they saw fit in the blowout win.
“Our entire philosophy is predicated on kids being unselfish,” Wells said. “If we ever have a kid who becomes selfish and starts counting carries then nothing we do will work. The reason I thought tonight was fantastic was that we never plan on getting this kid the ball on this play, so what I thought was great was that all three kids demonstrated that they could carry the load if that’s what had to happen.”
With the win, the Bears pick up their first league win of the season in impressive fashion. Now sitting at 1-1 in Western Slope League play, Rifle turns its attention to its Thursday night showdown with Palisade on the road. For now, though, the Bears will enjoy the league win before getting back to work.
“It’s always important for us to win in our league, and that’s what that was,” Wells said. “We feel blessed to come away with a win in our league any time we can do that.”
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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.