Bears win league title, stay low key
RIFLE — The news of the outright Class 3A Western Slope League title came well after the 40-7 victory the Rifle High School football team posted against the Summit Tigers on Friday night.
Granted, it weighed heavily on the outcome of the final result between Delta and Palisade in Grand Junction, where Delta prevailed 27-24 in overtime. The Bears, however, were more preoccupied with taking group pictures after the game than checking their Twitter feeds to see how the game was going.
“Honestly, it would be nice to win the league championship, but that’s not our whole goal,” Rifle senior linebacker Austin Shepherd said right after the game. “Our whole goal is to make the playoffs and get seven more days together, and we’ve done that.”
The victory for the Bears (9-1 overall, 6-1 3A WSL) not only clinched the outright league championship, but it extended Rifle’s run of league titles to four consecutive seasons dating back to 2011. What’s more, rifle earned the league’s automatic berth in the 3A state playoffs and, with it, a first-round home game.
Seeding for the 16-team playoff bracket will be determined by the Colorado High School Activities Association on Sunday when the final wildcard points standings are released. Not that seeding matters to the Bears, though.
“We matter to us, and that’s all we really focus on,” Rifle coach Damon Wells said. “Our kids are really good at just focusing on ourselves and the things that are important. And what’s important is that we’re in. Everyone is good in the playoffs, and we’ll let the chips fall where they may.”
Brock Clark scored four of Rifle’s six touchdowns, putting Rifle up for good with his 48-yard TD scamper on the Bears’ third play from scrimmage with 10 minutes, 35 seconds remaining in the first quarter that gave the Bears a 7-0 lead after Eduardo Sandoval’s point-after kick. He also scored on a pair of pick-six interceptions, returning his first off a pass from Summit quarterback Luke Notaro 48 yards for a score with 9:50 left in the first.
Clark added a 2-yard TD reception from Layton Stutsman for the Bears’ third score, and Stutsman ran the ball into the endzone from 10 yards out with 7:26 left in the first quarter.
Summit (1-9 overall, 0-7 3A WSL) didn’t just roll over and die, however. Notaro engineered a 78-yard drive in the second quarter that took 6 minutes off the clock and gave the Tigers a first-and-goal at the Bears’ 8. Rifle’s defense held firm, though, as Notaro’s fade pass to Colby Christman on a fourth-and-goal at the 1 went long.
Two plays later, Clark popped off a 58-yard run — nearly breaking for a 99-yard TD scamper — and Stutsman threw a 9-yard TD strike to Austin Knight with 3:21 left before halftime. And on the Tigers’ next play from scrimmage, Clark returned another Notaro interception 31 yards for a score, what started the running-clock mercy rule after Sandoval’s point-after kick made it 40-0 at the 3:08 mark.
Clark finished with 116 rushing yards on three carries and 189 all-purpose yards. Tristan McDonald finished with 79 rushing yards on 16 carries, with his 13-yard TD jaunt against Rifle’s second-string defense at the 3:45 mark of the fourth quarter giving the Tigers their lone touchdown of the game.
In the scary moment in the third quarter, Notaro was carted off the field on a stretcher following a blow to the head.
The sophomore wasn’t showing movement at first, but gave a thumbs up to the crowd at Bears Stadium as medical personnel took him away.
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