Bears win semifinal at Niwot
LONGMONT- After running the first play, Kyle Sanderson knew Rifle was going to win its Class 3A semifinal football game against Niwot.For the rest of his Bears teammates, it took two hours to feel like their quarterback felt.In that span, the Rifle senior threw two touchdown passes in the Bears’ 23-20 win over the previously unbeaten Cougars, which moved Rifle into next Saturday’s 3A championship game at home against Sterling, which downed Palisade, 33-28.”From the first play of the game, I knew we could do it,” Sanderson said. The senior easily directed Rifle down the field against the previously unbeaten Cougars for the game’s first score – a Sanderson 27-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead three minutes into the first quarter.”We had to come out an attack them. We knew Niwot was bigger and stronger than us and we couldn’t be afraid of them,” Sanderson said. “That was the biggest part of the whole game.”The Bears quarterback set the tone with an 18-yard pass to John Alderson to start the drive. Running back Rocky Rauman, who finished with 154 yards on 26 carries, had a key gain of 45 yards to get the Bears inside Niwot’s 5-yard line before the drive stalled.”When we popped that big one and Rocky got down there. I knew we had the game. I knew we had it,” Sanderson said.The quarterback connected with Jordan Robinson to raise the margin to 10-0. Operating from midfield, Niwot was unable to defend Sanderson’s screen pass to Robinson in the left flat. The senior wideout took the pass to the end zone untouched.Bears defensive back Tyler Gose stopped a promising Niwot drive when he intercepted quarterback Clint Stapp’s pass with 7 minutes, 27 seconds left in the half.But, the Cougars refused to fold.Fullback Matthew Braman culminated a 12-play, 84-yard drive with a two-yard touchdown run just before halftime to cut Rifle’s lead to 10-7 after kicker Thomas Tudor’s successful point after.To start the second half, Rifle coach Darrel Gorham used some trickery. And, it paid off.Robinson’s recovery of Sanderson’s squib kick gave the Bears the ball at Niwot’s 48. “You have to be aggressive and hold nothing back in the playoffs,” Gorham said of the play. “Our kids know that and understand that. And, we’re not afraid to do those kind of things.”The coach showed the same type of bravery on a fourth-down play at Niwot’s 18 later in the drive. Given enough time from the Bears offensive line, Sanderson flipped a pass to Alderson in the right corner of the end zone to lead by 10 points again.”That is a play we’ve had all season,” Gorham said. “We save those things when we need them, and we caught (Niwot) at the right time.Two series later, Alderson appeared to have sealed the contest when he pulled an intended pass that bounced off Cougars receiver Robbie Fowler’s hands for a 43-yard touchdown, which made the score 23-7.Alderson said the score made up for some early-season mistakes.”Our front line has been awesome,” he said. “They’ve been stuffing the run all year, and they’ve been upset with the DBs letting some big plays go. But, it worked out.”Niwot scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to make it close. Nathan Dorzweiler caught a 16-yard TD pass early in the period, and Stapp scored from a yard out with 1:11 left to pull within three points.The Cougars turned the ball back over to Rifle when their squib kick failed to go the required 10 yards. Now, after enduring a white-knuckle, eight-hour bus ride over two rugged mountain passes this week, the Bears have the luxury of hosting the 3A state championship game. “It’s unbelievable,” Sanderson said of being in the championship game. “I can’t explain it with words.””It’s unbelievable,” Sanderson said of being in the championship game. “I can’t explain it with words.”
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Thanksgiving seems to be ever-present here in the Roaring Fork Valley. I’m not talking turkey and gravy, I’m speaking to the gifts we receive constantly, throughout the seasons.