Bears top Longhorns in thrilling Week Zero matchup
It took awhile, but the Rifle Bears awoke from a long winter hibernation in the second half to pull away for a 48-34 win, Friday, over the Basalt Longhorns on the road in a Week Zero matchup to kick off the 2016 season in thrilling fashion.
Behind the trio of seniors Blaine Vance and Drake Montgomery, along with junior Brandon Fletchall, the Bears pounded their way to 409 yards on the ground in Rifle fashion to pick up a big win to start a season that the program hopes leads to another playoff berth.
“I don’t really know how to comment on [the success on the ground] because it’s what we believe in,” Rifle Head Coach Damon Wells said. “Basalt has incredibly talented kids and I think the sky is the limit for them. I think they’ll have a very successful season, and I thought they had a great plan, so hats off to Carl [Frerichs] and his coaches. It definitely means something to come up here and walk away a winner.”
Locked in a tight battle in the first half, the Bears and Longhorns traded quick scoring drives as the Bears held on to a 27-20 lead at halftime thanks Blaine Vance, Brandon Fletchall, Luke Ellis and Drake Montgomery finding paydirt on the ground for Rifle, while Basalt took to the air on the right arm of Miles Levy to stay in the game early on.
Starting things off on the first drive of the game, the Bears marched 55 yards in seven plays as Vance roared up the gut for the opening score from 11 yards out to put Rifle on top just under four minutes into the game.
But in a preview of what was to come the rest of the game, Levy and the Longhorns took to the air as the Basalt senior quarterback found fellow senior wide receiver Kyle Roberts along the far sideline on a 75-yard catch-and-run to put the Longhorns on the board, 7-6, after a failed point after attempt.
Rifle responded quickly as Montgomery returned the ensuing kickoff 33 yards, setting up the Bears near midfield halfway through the first quarter. From there, it took Rifle four plays to score as Vance picked up 19 and 14 yards on the ground before Montgomery raced another 24 yards to set up Fletchall’s 6-yard score, pushing the Rifle lead to 14-6.
Six plays later Basalt answered with a score of its own, again taking to the air, this time on an option pass from Roberts to senior wide receiver Will Chadbourne from 32 yards out, narrowing the Rifle lead to 14-13.
Looking to slow things down and grind out a long, punishing drive, the Bears turned to Vance up the middle, who picked up small chunks of yards at a time, methodically marching the Bears down the field before junior quarterback Luke Ellis — making the first varsity start of his career — kept the ball over the right side from 2 yards out to make it 20-13 Rifle early in the second quarter.
Ellis’ score capped off a 13-play, 76-yard drive that took over six minutes.
With a seven-point lead, the Rifle defense looked to stiffen up against the Longhorns’ prolific passing attack. They did just that, as Montgomery came bursting through off the edge to haul down Levy for a sack, forcing a turnover on downs for Basalt.
But it didn’t take long for Basalt to return the favor to Rifle as Luis Arce sacked Ellis on fourth down to force a Rifle turnover on downs, giving Basalt the ball near midfield.
That’s when things got hectic.
Levy’s first pass attempt following the Rifle turnover on downs found the hands of Fletchall — also making his first varsity start — in the flat. The junior raced the other way for what appeared to be a pick-six for the Bears, but a holding call on the return wiped out what could have been a momentum-changing outcome.
Fortunately for Rifle, the Bears retained possession thanks to the interception, setting up shop in the red zone. Two plays later Montgomery sprinted his way into the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown, making it 27-13 Rifle with just over three minutes left in the half.
Not to be outdone though, Basalt answered six plays later with a 45-yard bomb from Levy to Roberts to make it 27-20 at the half.
In a tight battle that could go either way to start the second half, the Rifle defense came out fired up and quickly forced a turnover on downs by the Longhorns, again giving the Bears the ball in Basalt territory.
Four plays later Fletchall — behind two outstanding blocks from Montgomery and junior guard Connor Gould, raced into the end zone untouched from 27 yards out for his second touchdown of the game, pushing the Bears ahead by two scores midway through the third quarter.
“I’m just happy that my teammates were there to block for me,” Fletchall said. “Without them, I wouldn’t have been able to do anything. Drake had a really good block on the left side, so I was able to get up the sideline after that, but this was a good start for us.”
Forcing a Basalt punt on the next possession, the Bears looked to run away from the Longhorns, appearing to do just that on the ground on another methodical drive to bring the third quarter to a close with a 14-point lead.
But on the first play from scrimmage to start the fourth quarter, Montgomery took a handoff around right end, racing 43 yards for the score to make it 41-20 Rifle in what looked to be the final nail in the coffin of the Longhorns.
It wouldn’t be that easy though, especially with Levy and Roberts having something to say about it.
The duo hooked up again — this time from 12 yards out — for their third scoring strike of the game, pulling Basalt back to within 14 points, 41-27, with almost 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter.
Hoping to get back into the game, the Longhorns forced a Rifle punt, but a terrific 35-yard punt from senior Jacob Boone pinned the Longhorns deep in their own territory. Eight plays later on a fake punt attempt, Montgomery cut in front of the pass for the interception deep in Basalt territory.
“I knew it [fake punt] was coming because I saw the two wide receivers lined up out wide,” Montgomery said. “The first time they punted they didn’t have wide receivers lined up out wide, so I just read that and reacted to the ball.”
Two plays later — following a 27-yard pass from Ellis to Fletchall — Montgomery pounded in his third touchdown of the game, sealing the win.
“Our kids never quit because it was testy there for awhile,” Wells said. “It was a one-possession game at halftime and I thought our kids responded well in the second half. I hope and pray that the old adage is true that ‘your greatest improvement comes between the first and second week’ because we have a lot of things to make improvement on, but we have boys that are willing to work.”
Levy would find sophomore Trevor Reuss for a 12-yard touchdown with five seconds to go, but it wasn’t enough to complete the second half comeback for Basalt.
In the win, Montgomery rushed for 193 yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries, while Fletchall rushed for 59 yards and two scores on seven carries.
Vance added 161 yards and a score on 21 carries.
For Basalt, Levy finished 16-for-27 through the air for 242 yards to go along with four touchdowns and two interceptions.
Roberts hauled in eight passes for 182 yards and three touchdowns, while running back Ian Lumsden rushed for 89 yards on 17 carries in the loss.
Rifle will host Montrose next Friday, while Basalt will have the week off before traveling to Grand Valley, Sept. 9.
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Down 14-7 with less than 11 minutes left in regulation, Rifle head coach Todd Casebier decided it was time to deviate from his ground-and-pound offense for a bit of an aerial attack.