Gorham has one word – ‘finally’
RIFLE – Finally.It’s a word Rifle High School head coach Darrel Gorham uttered as he watched the clock evaporate to zero. The Bears finally won it all.Opinion: By Dale ShrullSpecial to the Post IndependentRIFLE – Finally.It’s a word Rifle High School head coach Darrel Gorham uttered as he watched the clock evaporate to zero. The Bears finally won it all.It’s a word more than 15 years in the making. It’s a word that has taken disappointment, frustration, tears and numerous early playoff exits to fully comprehend.As Gorham and the rest of the Bears soaked in Rifle’s first state football championship since 1973, pieces of the football program’s foundation hovered around him joyously celebrating the 7-6 win over Sterling.”This win isn’t just for the me, and the coaches and the players, it’s for the whole community,” Gorham said between congratulatory hugs. “It’s also for all those players and coaches before, who put all the time and effort into it to build a program.”The foundation for Rifle’s 2004 title was set way back in the early 1990s when Gorham took over at Rifle. But it’s the frustrations of the 2000s that made Saturday’s win so special.As Gorham relished in the glow of the Class 3A state title, he talked about the pain of 2002 when Rifle entered the playoffs as the undefeated No. 1-ranked team in Class 3A. The end came swiftly for the Bears. An agonizing and stunning first-round loss to Fountain Fort Carson.”That was one of the toughest losses I’ve ever had,” Gorham said.With the loss came criticism and fingerpointing, most of it directed at Gorham. At the time, Gorham said, “People don’t know how tough it is to win a state title.”Troy Weiss was the a running back on that team. On Saturday, he celebrated with and congratulated his former coach.”He’s fought for this for a long time,” Weiss said about Gorham.” He’s been criticized a lot through the years and I think this year really proves that he’s a great coach.”Watching all the former players celebrating on the field was the perfect example of how a championship is built. One piece at a time, one playoff loss at a time, but always one ultimate goal: a state title.Alfonso Alfini, a former running back and linebacker for the Bears, gave Gorham a powerful bear hug and wouldn’t let go until he let him know how proud he was.”I just told him he deserves it,” Alfini said. “It was a feeling of relief, like finally, Rifle finally did it. All that hard work, all those tears, all those times we lost in the playoffs, we finally made it. I couldn’t be more happy for him. I love the guy.”There’s that word again – finally.For assistant coach Todd Ellis, who’s been on Gorham’s staff for the entire 15 years, the win was about a culmination of a long journey.”This is all about all the past players too. They helped build this program. It’s all been these kids, the parents and the community that’s supported our program all along,” Ellis said with a smile that seem to utter the word finally.With a frenetic crowd celebrating, Gorham kept shaking hands and embracing Rifle football supporters. Every time he turned around, there was someone else to offer a congratulations.Even with all the playoff losses, especially the tormenting defeat of 2002, Gorham said he had no doubt the Bears had the potential to capture the gold ball and display it in the trophy case.”I thought it was possible. Any time you have a program that makes it to the playoffs as many times as we have, something’s got to give,” he said.Something final gave and the rest is high school football history.Gorham’s unwavering optimism is grounded by the fact that Rifle has a strong football foundation.”Everybody talks about wining a state championship but you have to have things go your way in order to win those playoff games,” he said.Things finally went their way. An interception, a couple of fumble recoveries, an unbelievable catch for a TD, a first-down saving tackle on a fake field goal, a roughing the kicker penalty, and so on … things finally went the Bears’ way. Everything went right for the Bears once the playoffs started. The 2004 Bears were a strange contrast from other Gorham teams. This team finished a disappointed fourth in the Western Slope League, losing to Glenwood Springs for the first time in 13 years, and getting beat by Palisade and Moffat County. With little expectations from many outside the program, the 2004 Bears staggered into the playoffs. But the Bears started rolling, beating Florence on the road, then dispatching Conifer at home and upsetting Niwot on the road in the semifinals.A truly unlikely run by a team notorious for playoff disappointment and early exits.In 2004, things were different for Rifle. The ball finally bounced right. Gorham finally won it all, and the Bears finally erased years of disappointment.Gorham couldn’t find the words to describe the moment of finally winning a state title. Emotionally, he was spent. Drained, he just shook his head. “I don’t know what to say.”Then he fell back to the standard response.”I don’t think it’s sunk in yet,” he said and smiled – more of a satisfied smile than one of jubilation.Darrel Gorham doesn’t have to say anything. There’s a gold ball in the trophy case at Rifle High School that says it all.Finally.Dale Shrull was the sports editor for the Glenwood Post and the editor for the Rifle Citizen Telegram, covering the Rifle football program for more than five years. He is currently the managing editor for the Montrose Daily Press.Dale Shrull was the sports editor for the Glenwood Post and the editor for the Rifle Citizen Telegram, covering the Rifle football program for more than five years. He is currently the managing editor for the Montrose Daily Press.
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