Rifle Bears hold off late Palisade rally in 13-7 win
Grand Junction Sentinel
The Rifle Bears football team returned the favor of two straight losses back to the Palisade Bulldogs, 13-7.
In 2013 and 2014 the Bulldogs managed a pair of last-second victories against the Bears, but the Rifle defense made sure that didn’t happen again this year.
The third-ranked Bulldogs nearly drove the length of the field for the game-winning score on their final possession, but Rifle’s defense held and preserved a 13-7 Class 3A Western Slope Conference victory at Stocker Stadium.
With the win, the Bears (6-1, 3-1) have a chance to clinch at least a share of its fifth consecutive conference title.
The Bears did it in a way that Palisade did with down-to-the-wire victories the past two seasons. The Bulldogs prevailed 28-27 in 2013, and last year they won 18-10 with a late touchdown.
“Last year and the year before, they got us,” said Rifle junior running back Blaine Vance, who finished with a game-high 135 rushing yards. “Now, we got to take it back.”
Tanner Pratt finished with a team-high 82 yards on 15 carries to go with the performance of Isaac Maestas, who tallied 50 of his 68 rushing yards in the second half. The Bulldogs, however, were limited to a season-low 241 rushing yards and 306 yards of total offense.
“Let’s give credit to Rifle,” Palisade coach Joe Ramunno said. “They really prepared well and played great against us.”
Palisade learned to be more effective on offense as the game wore on. The Bulldogs were shut out in the first half and limited to 111 yards of offense, but Pratt’s 11-yard touchdown run with 6 minutes, 16 seconds left pulled the Bulldogs even at 7-7.
From there, Vance stepped in to give the Bears the lead for good, capping off Rifle’s 11-play, 80-yard drive with a 5-yard TD run with one minute remaining in the third quarter to give the Bears that 13-7 lead after Eduardo Ruiz’s point-after kick was blocked.
Vance finished with 135 of the Bears’ 216 rushing yards in the win.
“When you play in our backfield, there’s always a chance where, for a game or two, it just doesn’t happen for you that much,” Rifle coach Damon Wells said. “Our kids just keep playing hard, though, and it’s awesome when they get to be rewarded.”
Near the end of the game, though, Palisade had a chance to be the team reaping the rewards.
The Bears’ offense went three-and-out on their final possession, and Palisade got the ball back on its own 33 with 2:01 remaining. The Bulldogs got consecutive gains of 12 and 17 yards to get to the Rifle 38. Then after an incomplete pass and a Rifle quarterback sack, Palisade QB P.D. Riddle completed a 15-yard pass to Matt Sorenson on a third-and-14 to keep the drive going.
An 11-yard run on a scramble by Riddle — who broke four tackles in the process — moved the ball to the Bears’ 14 with 30 seconds left. Riddle was sacked on the next play, before spiking the ball at the line of scrimmage with 9.4 seconds remaining in the game.
On the final play, Riddle handed the ball to Pratt, who was stopped for a 6-yard gain. Palisade couldn’t get another play off before time expired, and Rifle’s defense ran off the field to celebrate with the hundreds of fans who made the trip down Interstate 70.
“Those are the plays that either make or break you,” Ramunno said. “Rifle did a good job of bringing people to get that stop.”
The Rifle Bears will travel to Steamboat Springs next Friday.
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