Prep football: Fourth-ranked Rifle preps for No. 2 Delta
RIFLE — Rifle High School football coach Damon Wells and his Bears will hit the road on Friday for what could very well be the game of the night in the 3A Western Slope League. It also shapes up as one of the marquee games on the schoolboy schedule in the entire state of Colorado.
Rifle’s destination will be Delta High School and a date with the Panthers, who are ranked No. 2 in the Associated Press Class 3A polls. The Bears occupy the No. 4 spot in the state pecking order, having outscored their opponents 217-31 while compiling an unbeaten 4-0 record.
The fact that the game is on foreign turf will make things a bit more challenging for Rifle, but it doesn’t make for a lot of changes in how the Bears will approach things in their practice preparation.
“I don’t think being on the road will have a lot to do with how we go about getting the kids ready. It’s no big deal,” coach Wells said. “They’re a very good opponent. That’s a big deal.”
Much of the credit for Delta’s lofty ranking thus far rests with the legs of junior running back Jonny Ponce, who has rushed for nine touchdowns already this season. Along with his eye-opening number of scores, Ponce also brings a 223-yard per game rushing average to the table.
The Panthers, who bring a 3-1 overall record into the game — they lost a 28-21 decision to Class 4A Montrose on Aug. 29 — have other weapons in their arsenal as well. Senior quarterback Cade Gafford has thrown for close to 500 yards to this point with five touchdown passes. Gafford’s favorite target when the ball is in the air is senior Eian Baier, who hauls in passes at a 22-yard per catch average.
Rifle will counter with several weapons of its own on both sides of the ball. Last week against Eagle Valley, it was senior running back Brock Clark who came to the forefront, rushing for 219 yards and helping the Bears to victory. Clark found the goal line at the end of three of those treks.
The Bear defense doesn’t need a 12th man, as 11 has been plenty for their opponents to deal with. Rifle has allowed opponents just 7.5 points per game as they near the halfway point of the schedule.
Wells knows Delta is a quality opponent. He puts it simply, “They are good at a lot of things.” Coach Wells also knows he has a veteran team that is no stranger to the bright lights and big game atmosphere.
“Experience is valuable. These kids have been in so many pressure situations. Unique situations. That’s where experience pays off,” Wells said. “I feel our kids are pretty resilient.”
The winner of this game could establish an inside track to the 3A WSL title. It’s only the second league game for both teams, and other tough opponents await, but this meeting between two of the state’s best might have championship implications.
In Friday’s other games:
PALISADE (3-1, 1-0 WSL) AT GLENWOOD SPRINGS (2-2, 1-0 WSL): Glenwood returns home this week after a convincing 44-26 league opening win against Grand Junction Central. Always-formidable Palisade visits Stubler Memorial Field and, as is the case most years, the Bulldogs are a team that likes to keep the ball on the ground. Palisade is averaging 222 yards rushing the football to just 56 yards a game through the air. The Demons will have to find a way to control the line of scrimmage and bottle up the run game. Palisade is ranked No. 8 in the 3A state polls, but tangling with an improving Glenwood squad will be no walk in the park for the visitors. This contest will be well worth the price of admission.
ASPEN (2-2) AT ROARING FORK (1-3): This will be the first Class 2A Western Slope League North game of the season for each team. Aspen is coming off a narrow 14-12 loss to 1A powerhouse Cedaredge last week. The Skiers were impressive on Sept. 5 when they recorded a 23-14 win on the road at 3A Steamboat Springs. Roaring Fork had a tough time on the road last Friday, losing 48-0 to Gunnison. The Rams are 1-1 at home so far in 2014. They will be looking to notch victory No. 2 with their homecoming and rivalry game this week.
COAL RIDGE (2-2) AT BASALT (1-3): Basalt’s Longhorns are coming off a 31-14 road win last week against Grand Valley. Despite only one victory on the season, Basalt is a team no one in the WSL North can overlook. Coal Ridge takes to the road again as they look to bounce back from a 42-13 loss in Olathe last week. Throw out the overall records here, as this is the league opener for both the Titans and the Longhorns. Expect a down-to-the-wire affair in this one.
GRAND VALLEY (0-4) AT PAONIA (4-0): It’s out of the frying pan and into the 1A WSL fire for Grand Valley. The Cardinals, still searching for a win, face the daunting task of taking on Paonia, the state’s #1 ranked 1A team on their home turf. Grand Valley is looking to take care of more little things on their way to becoming a consistent football team. They will also have to make some big things happen in this game in order to keep the score close.
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