Palmer Ridge ends Rifle’s season with 49-7 win
RIFLE — Four touchdowns by sophomore wide receiver and cornerback Anthony Roberson II – two on offense and two on defense – propelled the No. 2 Palmer Ridge Bears to a resounding 49-7 win Saturday afternoon over the No. 10 Rifle Bears at Bears Stadium in the quarterfinals of the 3A Colorado High School Activities Association’s state playoffs.
Roberson hauled in touchdown passes of 26 and 20 yards from standout junior quarterback Ty Evans – an Arkansas commit – and added defensive touchdowns of 50 yards on a strip-sack and 48 yards on an interception return to lead Palmer Ridge to a berth in the semifinals of the 3A playoff bracket.
Playing at home following last week’s thumping of No. 7 Evergreen on the road in Lakewood, Rifle hoped to take advantage of the cold weather and snow fall in the area, but Palmer Ridge’s balanced offense and opportunistic defense was too much for the Bears to handle.
Rifle, which likes to refer to the message of “7 more days” when it comes to the playoffs, got a chance to experience 14 such days together, allowing them to not only get better for this season and next season, but also give them a chance to continue to build those relationships on and off the field.
“They’re a great group of kids to be around,” Rifle head coach Damon Wells said. “If they weren’t, we as coaches wouldn’t do what we do. It’s a joy to be able to work with these group of young men, and that’s what we mean by 7 more days. We want those days to make more memories. We were blessed this playoff season to get 14 days to make more memories, but the sad fact in any of these tournament-type formats is that these are the 16 best teams in Colorado, and 15 of them will end the season with a loss.”
Coming into the game undefeated, Palmer Ridge lived up to the hype as it took four plays for Evans to find Roberson down the left sideline for a 26-yard scoring strike to put Palmer Ridge in front 7-0 just under three minutes into the game.
One week after rushing for 506 yards, the Bears struggled to bust off the big play against Palmer Ridge. However, Rifle methodically moved the ball on its second drive of the game, chewing up a ton of clock in the first quarter as the wing-T offense marched towards midfield, highlighted by a nice looking pitch-and-catch from senior quarterback Luke Ellis to senior running back Camron Shepherd for 21 yards. A few plays later though, Ellis’ pass intended for senior Elijah Whitman was picked off by Palmer Ridge senior safety Cody Mclellan near midfield.
Two plays after the interception, Evans found Mclellan wide open down the left sideline for a 56-yard catch-and-run to the Rifle 2-yard line, setting up sophomore running back Raef Ruel’s 2-yard score to give Palmer Ridge a 14-0 lead with 2:50 left in the first quarter.
Rifle again took to the ground to grind out yards against a tough Palmer Ridge front, while Ellis hooked up with Shepherd again for 15 yards through the air. But a sack on Ellis and an incomplete pass forced the Bears to punt from midfield, giving the ball back to a red-hot Palmer Ridge offense.
It was then Palmer Ridge’s turn to methodically march the ball down the field as Ruel and fellow sophomore running back Noah Brom took turns pounding it into the teeth of the physical Rifle defense. As Palmer Ridge established the run, they set up Rifle for the pass as Evans found Roberson in triple coverage in the middle of the field on a jump ball for a gain of 42 yards down to the Rifle 1-yard line before the junior quarterback kept the ball on the read-option, racing into the end zone for the 21-0 lead on the road with 7:49 left in the second quarter.
Following Palmer Ridge’s third touchdown of the game, Rifle didn’t blink and began to march the ball down the field again as junior fullback Tanner Vines became the battering ram for Rifle’s ground game, rushing for gains of 7, 7, 2, 3 and 4 yards on the drive, but a second sack on Ellis in the game ended the Bears’ drive near midfield.
As Vines got going on offense for Rifle, he stepped up on Palmer Ridge’s next drive defensively, playing middle linebacker. The junior read Evans’ eyes like a book and stepped in front of an ill-advised pass across the middle for an interception, setting Rifle up in great field position. Disaster struck for Rifle two plays later though as Roberson came racing in off the edge on a blitz to sack Ellis and force a fumble, which he scooped up and raced 50 yards for the score, giving Palmer Ridge a commanding 28-0 lead with 1:52 left before halftime.
Riding the wave of momentum after the defensive score, Palmer Ridge head coach Tom Pulford called for a surprise onside kick. Palmer Ridge recovered the kick and then scored five plays later as Evans found Roberson in the back of the end zone for a 20-yard strike for a 35-0 lead, which Palmer Ridge took into the half over Rifle.
After halftime, Rifle tried to pull off an onside kick of their own, but Palmer Ridge recovered on Rifle’s side of the field.
A pass interference and a personal foul after the play on Rifle marched Palmer Ridge to the 13-yard line, but Rifle’s defense held, forcing a turnover on downs deep in their own end. Looking to gain some momentum of its own, Rifle turned to Vines for gains of 7 and 12 yards on the ground, but the drive would end in frustration again as Ellis was picked off deep down the right sideline by senior quarterback Cameron Colangelo.
Six plays later – all runs – Palmer Ridge junior running back Anderson Carpenter raced up the gut of the Rifle defense for a 25-yard touchdown, starting the running clock with 5:02 left in the third quarter and Palmer Ridge holding a 42-0 lead.
On Rifle’s next possession, Roberson stepped in front of a quick throw by Ellis and raced the opposite way for the 48-yard pick-6 to give Palmer Ridge a 49-0 lead.
Credit to the Rifle group though as the Bears refused to quit on the day despite the game being all but over. On the final drive of the game, Rifle marched 80 yards in 9 plays as junior Joel Lopez rushed for 18 yards before Shepherd picked up 13 and 14-yard gains, setting up his 10-yard burst around right end for the score, getting Rifle on the board in the game to give the home fans a bright spot to cheer about.
“I think [the drive to end the game] personafies our kids and what they do,” Wells said. “Our kids are willing to do what we ask them, and I think all the credit in the world goes to Palmer Ridge. Let’s not look past the fact that they’re pretty talented.”
With the loss, Rifle finishes the season with a record of 10-3 (5-1 3A WSL). The loss to Palmer Ridge could be the final 3A game the Bears play moving forward as there is a proposal on the table with CHSAA to drop the Bears down to 2A next season in football. The proposal will be voted on during a Dec. 7 meeting for the CHSAA football committee.