Bears stunned by Thunder in CHSAA playoffs
COLORADO SPRINGS — The Rifle Bears’ march toward a second consecutive state championship game came to an abrupt end Friday, as the Bears fell to the Discovery Canyon Thunder 43-20 at District 20 Stadium.
Rifle (9-2, 6-1) trailed the Thunder 29-7 at the half before storming back early in the third quarter to make a game of it, but ultimately couldn’t come up with enough big plays to pull off the comeback.
The Bears received the game’s opening kickoff and put together a good drive, marching the ball into Thunder territory — thanks to a 29-yard catch-and-run from Ethan Strouse to Tyler Bosshardt — before turning it over on downs at the Discovery Canyon 37-yard line.
Following the forced turnover on downs, Discovery Canyon wasted no time getting on the board as fullback Colt O’Connell took the handoff 63 yards for the opening score on their first play, giving the Thunder a 7-0 lead just under four minutes into the game.
Rifle then turned to Blaine Vance —who finished with more than 230 yards rushing in the loss — who picked up 13 and 17 yards on back-to-back carries to put the Bears back in Thunder territory.
Unfortunately, the Bears weren’t able to pick up another first down after Vance’s big plays, forcing them to punt the ball back to the Thunder offense.
On the first play from scrimmage on their second drive, Discovery Canyon’s Josh Tomjack picked up 36 yards on his first carry of the game, pushing the Thunder across midfield into Bears territory.
Four plays later, Tomjack took the sweep left for a 16-yard touchdown, putting the Bears on their heels early, trailing 14-0 with 2:30 left in the first quarter.
Much like they have all season, the Bears responded in the face of adversity, as Vance shouldered the load for the Bears offense, carrying the ball six times on a nine-play drive that was capped off by Ty Leyba on a six-yard run to pull the Bears within 14-7 with 10:55 left in the first quarter.
But not to be outdone, the Thunder turned right around and marched 61 yards in 12 plays, finished off by quarterback Matthew Call on a 1-yard quarterback sneak.
Trying to get within one score just before halftime, the Bears began to march down the field on the back of Vance, but on 2nd and 7 from the Thunder 21-yard line, Strouse dropped back to pass with just 38 seconds left.
Looking for Bosshardt out of the backfield on a wheel route, Strouse underthrew his target, leading to an 85-yard interception return for a touchdown by Discovery Canyon’s Brandon Storch.
The Thunder went for two and sprinted into halftime with a 29-7 lead and all the momentum in this one.
Coming out of the half, the Thunder received the kickoff and marched down the field, largely behind a 58-yard scamper by Call, to put the Thunder in position to run away and hide in this one.
However, the Bears defense buckled down and forced a missed field goal, swinging momentum back to their side of the field.
After the missed field goal, the Bears looked like a completely different team, and it showed in the ensuing seven minutes of football.
“We talked about a few things, but ultimately all that matters is a bunch of teenage boys responding to you,” Rifle head coach Damon Wells said. “So all the credit in the world goes to them, because what I’ve learned is that it doesn’t matter much what you said to teenage boys, it matters what they hear. Evidently they heard somewhat of a good enough message to fight back like crazy.”
Vance once again carried the load for the Bears, carrying the ball eight times on a 16-play drive that covered 80 yards. The junior running back found paydirt on a 4-yard plunge to get the Bears back into the ballgame.
From there, the Bears were able to recover the ensuing onside kick inside Thunder territory. Following the recovery, Strouse found Bosshardt down the seam behind the Thunder defense for a 39-yard touchdown — the second Bears score in ten seconds.
“It [the swing in momentum] was great.” Well said. “We came to compete and we were able to do that there. We have shots in the gameplan, so we’ll use them whenever we feel that it’s the right time, and that felt like the right time there.”
On the next Discovery Canyon drive, Bosshardt picked off an errant Thunder pass, giving the Bears the ball near midfield, but Rifle was unable to put points on the board following the forced turnover.
Trailing 29-20 with more than 15 minutes left in the game, it appeared to be a whole new ballgame, but the Bears just couldn’t get the stops when they needed them the rest of the way, as Discovery Canyon scored twice in the fourth quarter to seal the first round win.
Despite losing in the first round, Wells was very praiseful of his team, which has worked hard all year to accomplish all that they have this year.
“I think people would be stunned at the amount of work our kids are willing to do, and the quality of people that they are,” Wells said. “I think they’re everything good about high school sports, and I really hope and pray that everybody embraces what they do and encourages more people to be like them.”
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