Cooper not the only Rifle coach to win state
RIFLE – Gordon Cooper likely has seen more Rifle High School football games than anyone in the history of the program. By G. Sean KellyGSPI Sports EditorRIFLE – Gordon Cooper likely has seen more Rifle High School football games than anyone in the history of the program. He was the head coach for the Bears for 24 years and still spends many fall Friday nights running the clock for the Rifle home games, along with his longtime assistant coach Jack Smith, who also coached the Rifle girls basketball team.”I’ve seen a lot of them,” Cooper said prior to Saturday’s Class 3A state championship game between Rifle and Sterling. “The only time I don’t see them here is when I’m hunting that one Friday” each fall.Before Saturday, Cooper also had the distinction as the only head coach to have won any team state titles at Rifle. He won two football championships (a co-championship with Louisville in 1961 and an outright title in ’73 against Yuma), two baseball titles and a boys state track crown.He welcomed some company in his exclusive club Saturday when head coach Darrel Gorham and the Bears won their first football state title in 31 years, 7-6, over Sterling.”I’d be happy for Gorham,” Cooper said before the game. “He’s a great coach and he’s hung in there tough. I’d be happier than happy.”He also pointed out how much more difficult it is to win a title now than in his coaching days due to the number of schools involved. “It’s probably about three times as hard to win a state championship now as it was in ’73.Once a coach always a coach: The difference between seeing a game from the sideline and taking part in press box while running the clock is more than just a matter of elevation.”I think this is a little more laid back,” Smith said.Still, there are similarities.”You do the wrong thing up here and you catch hell just like on the field,” he said.But even retired coaches get game-day nerves. Cooper jokingly held out a shaking hand before the title game and moved around the press box with a nervous smile.”I’m a little nervous, but it’s not like when you’re coaching,” Cooper said.”Taking care of the clock is not as bad as calling offensive plays, but you still get the butterflies,” added Smith. “I think it’s just from years and years of doing it. It’s automatic.”Key play: With Rifle up 7-6 and 1:49 left in the game the Bears were forced to punt from its own 9-yard line. Punter John Alderson knew Sterling would bring the house in an attempt to block the punt. He got the punt away before being knocked down by Sterling’s Wade Henderson. The bump drew a flag and the Bears were able to run out the clock.”I knew they were coming,” Alderson said. “I’ve been working on the one-step (kick) all year, but I didn’t even have time for that. I basically stood-kick.”Alderson had a solid day punting, averaging 31.3 yards on seven kicks. He also forced, then recovered a fumble at the Bears’ 5-yard line with 3:20 left in the game.”They were getting close to scoring and I could see state slipping away,” Alderson said of his thoughts prior to the play.These guys got hands: Both touchdowns in the game came in the first half and both were highlight-film material.Sterling opened the scoring when Shane Gertner pulled in an 11-yard Jeff Squier pass with one hand then managed to stay in bounds in the back of the end zone. The score was set up by Gertner’s 78-yard opening kickoff return. Jacob Cummings missed the point-after attempt and it proved to be the difference in the game.Not to be outdone, Rifle’s Jordan Robinson pulled in a 32-yard Kyle Sanderson toss. Robinson stole the interception from Troy Sides by reaching over the defensive back and walked in from 3 yards out.Gertner was injured in the second quarter, leaving most of the pass-catching duties to Derek Pilkington in the second half. Pilkington finished with a game-high 98 yards receiving on three catches, which included a couple of beauties down the right sideline, but no points.Defense is key: Of Rifle’s three state championships, the Bears have given up a total of 19 points, while scoring 21. Rifle shared the state title with Louisville after a 6-all tie in the Class A title game in 1961 and beat Yuma 8-7 in the 1973 Class AA championship.In the only other championship game, and the only other title game held in Rifle, the Bears lost to Fort Morgan 21-14.In the only other championship game, and the only other title game held in Rifle, the Bears lost to Fort Morgan 21-14.
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