Bears slip in playoff race with loss to Bulldogs
CRAIG – With only a handful of games left to play, the Rifle soccer team knows the time is running out if they’re going to make a push toward the playoffs.After Tuesday’s loss to visiting Battle Mountain, Rifle needed a victory to keep pace in the Western Slope League.The first task for the Bears (3-4-1 WSL, 4-6-1 overall), was a road match against one of the teams hot on their heels in the playoff race.Enter Moffat County (3-6-1 WSL, 3-8-0 overall).The Bulldogs dispatched the Bears 4-1 Saturday, pulling within one game of the elusive fourth and final playoff spot.”I’m disappointed,” Rifle head coach Mark Knighton said. “We are focusing on the playoffs, and this hurts.”Freshman Tracy Mendoza put the Bulldogs on the board early, scoring 1:30 into the match.”I got the ball off the bounce,” he said. “I turned around and blasted it in off my left foot.”Mendoza said the team is playing at a much higher level than last year’s squad, evident in the Bulldogs’ three victories this year, compared to last year’s two.”We are way better than last year,” he said. “We are shooting at the playoffs.”The Bears answered 12 minutes later when Brycen Fauser scored for the Bears, tying the contest at 1.”We are looking at the playoffs, too,” Knighton said. “We aren’t looking past anybody.”Bulldog Ian Forgay has the playoff fever as well.Forgay broke the tie five minutes later, pulling off an acrobatic goal, enabling the Bulldogs to once again take the lead.Forgay completed the most difficult kick in soccer – the bicycle kick – depositing the white leather sphere past a startled Rifle defense.”I’ve been saying that I will get one sometime,” Forgay said. “The ball was in the right place at the right time. It’s more luck than anything.”Rifle was short on the luck factor Saturday.With temperatures under 40 degrees and the rain a factor in footing, the Bears struggled to apply any offensive pressure.”Both teams had the same conditions out there,” Knighton said. “MoCo just outplayed us. They wanted it more than we did.”Clinging to a one-goal lead, the Bulldogs pulled away behind the play of junior Armando Lopez.The elements never affected the Bulldogs’ goal-scoring machine. Lopez took a corner kick for Moffat 25 minutes into the match. He bent the ball – untouched by the Rifle defense – around the right goal post of the Bears, putting the Bulldogs up by two.”I wanted to center the ball,” Lopez said, “But it went in instead. I really wasn’t trying to score then.”Up 3-1 at the half, Moffat County – except for Lopez – went on the defensive.Lopez dribbled through a cold and tired Bears defense, depositing a blast off his right foot, giving him his 12th goal on the season and the Bulldogs the final margin of victory.Rifle’s remaining schedule this season includes Glenwood Springs, Steamboat Springs, Eagle Valley and Palisade. The first will come on Tuesday at Glenwood.”We have four league games left – all tough,” Knighton said. “We play the teams ahead of us, so we have the opportunity to catch them.”
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