No. 7 Rifle pulls away from No. 10 Eaton in second half

Josh Carney
Post Independent
Rifle senior fullback Tanner Vines stiffarms an Eaton defender during his 41-yard catch-and-run in the first half against the Reds at Bears Stadium in Rifle.
Theresa Hamilton / Garfield RE-2

Three touchdowns in 14 offensive plays through 9 minutes of the third quarter was more than enough Saturday afternoon for the No. 7 Rifle Bears at home as the Bears pounded out a 27-0 win over the visiting No. 10 Eaton Reds at Bears Stadium in Rifle in the first round of the 2A Colorado High School Activities Association’s state playoffs.

Prior to the second half eruption offensively, Rifle struggled to get much of anything going offensively, thanks to a muffed punt to start the game, before a turnover on downs in the red zone. On Rifle’s second possession of the game the Bears were set up near midfield at an Eaton punt and proceeded to march 50 yards in 10 plays as junior running back Levi Warfel cruised into the end zone from 1 yard out, giving the Bears a 6-0 lead with 11:24 left in the second quarter after the extra point attempt clanked off of the left up right. The scoring drive for Rifle was highlighted by a 14-yard pass from junior quarterback Holden Stutsman to senior fullback Tanner Vines, and a 16-yard run by Warfel.

The touchdown would be the only score of the first half for the Bears as Rifle forced a turnover on downs on Eaton, before then trading punts heading into the half.

Coming out of the half though, it was a different story for Rifle as the Bears scored three touchdowns in nine minutes, pulling away from the Reds in the first-round matchup.

“Nothing was really said at halftime,” said Rifle senior center Wyatt Warfel. “The only thing that was really said was to do your job. And if you do your job, everything works together. I think in the beginning of the game, we just got off to a slow start. After that though we turned it on.”

Following the halftime break, Rifle came out and scored in four plays as Vines raced 60 yards up the middle of the field after running over the Eaton safety on his way to the end zone, giving the Bears a 13-0 lead just one minute, 41 seconds into the third quarter.

On the ensuing kickoff, Eaton’s Spencer Renfroe slipped as he caught the kick at his own 1 yard line, forcing Eaton to take over with its back to the wall. Rifle took advantage, forcing a three-and-out, which resulted in a short punt, setting the Bears up at the Eaton 34 yard line. After a false start on Rifle, Stutsman found junior Kenny Tlaxcala behind the Eaton defense on a post route for the 39-yard touchdown, giving the Bears a 20-0 lead with 8:14 left in the third quarter.

Junior cornerback Carter Pressler then picked off an Eaton pass, leading to Vines’ second touchdown of the day, this one from 1 yard out, making it 27-0 Bears with three minutes left in the third quarter.

“I was incredibly impressed with how we came out the locker room at halftime,” said Damon Wells, Rifle’s head coach. “Our kids play hard. I don’t know how to explain it, but we do what we do, and I don’t know that we do it any differently than anyone else. I think we’re just blessed.”

As the Rifle offense caught fire, the defense continued to remain stout, shutting down an Eaton offense that came into the game averaging nearly 600 yards per game.

The deepest Eaton penetrated into Rifle territory was the 18 yard line, which came on the first possession of the game after Rifle muffed the punt, giving Eaton new life. A 10-play, 28-yard drive to the Rifle 26 yard line was the only other time Eaton crossed midfield on the afternoon.

“We love our defense,” said Wells. “I think we do a good job of trying to find answers and putting our kids into a position to succeed, and we’re pretty lucky and blessed that they do.”

The win sends Rifle into the second round of the 2A state playoffs. The Bears will travel to No. 2 Resurrection Christian in Loveland, which beat No. 15 Alamosa 28-6 Saturday afternoon.

Vines finished with 121 rushing yards and two touchdowns, while Warfel added 73 rushing yards and a touchdown. Through the air, Stutsman finished 6-for-9 for 97 yards and a touchdown. Vines added 55 yards on two catches in the win.

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