I-70 showdown tonight in Glenwood Springs | PostIndependent.com

I-70 showdown tonight in Glenwood Springs

Jeff Caspersen
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Kara K. Pearson Post Independent file

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” Tonight’s football meeting between Glenwood Springs and Rifle will have a drastically different feel than it has in years past.

The Demons are 6-0, virtually on top of the Class 3A football world. The Bears are 1-5 and thick in the throes of their worst season in some time.

That said, it’s still Glenwood vs. Rifle. It’s still a big regional rivalry; the towns are separated by some 30 miles of Interstate 70 pavement.

And it’s still a showdown in which neither team takes the other lightly.

“It’s always a big game on our schedule,” said Bears coach Anthony Alfini, a Rifle High School alum who played in his fair share of these games growing up. “I guess it’s the closest game that we have. There’s a lot of intravalley rivalry. It always gets the kids pumped up.”

Senior quarterback Dakota Stonehouse, one of Glenwood Springs’ captains, knows the Demons can ill afford to mark Friday’s game in the win column before actually playing the game.

“It’s our biggest rivalry and it’s homecoming,” said the strong-armed passer, who’s passed for 985 yards and nine touchdowns, and has also rushed for nine scores so far this season. “We can’t take Rifle lightly. It’s always a big game.”

Said Demons head coach Rocky Whitworth: “It’s a rivalry. It’s an important game for us and, at the same time, it’s important for the community.”

The Glenwood Springs football program is where Rifle’s was not all that long ago ” in a position to contend for a state championship.

The Demons now hold the No. 2 ranking in 3A according to RockyPreps, a slot behind 3A Western Slope League nemesis Palisade, a team Glenwood will take aim at next week.

Glenwood’s putting up more than 42 points a game and allowing an average of 16. They have one of the best quarterbacks in the state in Stonehouse and a punishing ground game led by Michael Hudson, who has 759 yards and a ridiculous 11.9 yards per carry average to his name.

Its defense, which took a big graduation hit, has matured rapidly. The Demons are permitting opponents an average of 119 yards of total offense a night.

On the flip side, Rifle’s had it rough so far in 2008.

The Bears, 2004 state champs and runners-up in 2005, likely won’t find their way into the state playoffs for a 14th consecutive year.

Their troubles began in the preseason when incoming coach Bill Kucera suffered a neck injury demonstrating blocking on a one-man blocking sled. Alfini’s been in charge ever since, and will direct the team through season’s end.

With such a lengthy run of success and nearby (New Castle/Silt) high school Coal Ridge opening its doors in 2005, it was only a matter of time before Rifle suffered a down football year.

“I guess with opening up a new school ” I think this is Coal Ridge’s second class of kids going through all four years there ” it’s kind of split our athletes in half,” Alfini said. “Our high school is at the lowest point it’s been at, population-wise, in a few years. And we have kids here getting involved in other sports.”

Don’t expect the Bears to stay down too long, though.

According to Alfini, Rifle Middle School is running with around 90 football players ” roughly 50 eighth graders and 40 seventh graders.

“Even if we retain half those numbers, I think we’ll be sitting fine,” Alfini said.

Knowing the lull is likely temporary, Rifle’s temporary frontman has done his best to keep spirits up during this trying season.

“It seems like every program has to go through one of these years, when it seems like everything is stacked against it,” Alfini said. “We tell the kids it’s not so much about the end product, but the process. We can’t get down. We can’t throw any funerals or have any celebrations.”

Surprises tend to happen when Rifle and Glenwood meet, and the final score is rarely lopsided. Before last year’s 42-0 score in favor of Glenwood, the previous three Bear-Demon showdowns were decided by no more than four points.

In 2004, Joe Schreiner kicked a 21-yard field goal to push Glenwood to a 15-14 win over host Rifle, ranked No. 2 in the state at the time.

Last year, no one expected the rivalry game to finish as a rout between the top-10 teams. After a scoreless first quarter, the floodgates opened and the Demons rolled to a shocking shutout.

Only tonight’s four quarters will tell if Rifle will be able to write an surprising chapter in this regional rivalry and somehow bridge the gaping disparity between the teams’ seasons.

“We can’t take ’em lightly,” Glenwood Springs captain Jordan Ciani said. “If we take teams lightly, it’ll be like Sterling (the team the Demons lost to in the first round of last year’s state playoffs). We’ve got to finish out our season strong. We can’t take anything lightly.”

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