Rifle fights its way to 3A state finals
Post Independent Staff
RIFLE ” Using a reverse on a punt return and a two-running back, Bronco-like rotation, the Rifle Bears put together a seven play, game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter, topping Steamboat 14-7 in Saturday’s Class 3A semifinal.
The Bears’ running backs Bryce Enewold and Tyler Thompson alternated carries, continually pounding on the Sailors defense and with the scored tied at 7 and 3:07 left in the game, Enewold ran 12 yards, diving across the goal line for the winning score.
“We just played as a team, and we played hard,” Thompson said.
After shutting down the Sailor offense, making them go three and out with less than five minutes remaining in the game, Rifle’s Jose Villagrena returned a punt 32 yards on a reverse that landed the Bears on Steamboat’s 38-yard line. Rifle ran the ball seven straight times, setting up the winning touchdown, but there was still more than three minutes left.
Enewold’s kick rolled by two Sailors, stopping at the 19-yard line, giving Steamboat three minutes to go 81 yards to tie the game.
teamboat’s Jay Hanley pulled in a dump pass from Tanner Stillwell and zig-zagged 28 yards to the Bears’ 37-yard line. On the next play, Stillwell rolled out of the pocket looking for an open receiver, but found Thompson instead. Thompson’s interception sealed the victory as Rifle just ran out the clock.
“I saw their quarterback scrambling and saw their receiver out in the flats, and I got there to get the pass,” Thompson said.
The last time these two Western Slope League foes faced on Sept. 16, Steamboat won, 14-12, after Enewold missed one conversion kick and the offense was unable to make a two-point conversion. This time, both of Enewold’s kicks sailed through the uprights, though the points weren’t needed in the win.
Turnovers turned out to be more of a factor this time. Steamboat had three, while Rifle had only one.
“I think it came down to we made more mistakes than they made,” Steamboat head coach Aaron Finch said. “They made one mistake, we made three. That was the difference.”
Hanley ended the game with 135 yards rushing, but fumbled the ball twice, including one at Rifle’s 6-yard line, leaving Steamboat empty-handed after a 50-yard drive.
“They played hard, and we played hard. They are a good team, and we are a good team ” that’s why we’re here,” Hanley said. “It’s sad that it is over, but there’s not much you can do about it.”
The Bear defense came up with some big stops, with everyone chipping in with big hits or big plays. Tim Long recovered a fumble in the first quarter and broke up a Stillwell pass on a Sailors third down at end of the first frame. Keith Fraser sacked Stillwell for a 7-yard loss in the second quarter. Steve Wilson recovered Hanley’s second fumble, stopping what looked like a scoring Steamboat drive. Bobby Beavers came up with a big hit late in the game, stopping another Steamboat drive that led to Villagrena’s 32-yard reverse punt return.
On offense, Enewold finished the game with 104 yards on 14 carries for the Bears, while Thompson added another 72 on 20 carries. Rifle totaled 260 yards on the ground and grabbed 15 rushing first downs.
“Our offense has been good all year, we’ve been able to get yards, but now we are starting to convert more,” said head coach Damon Wells. “We just move the ball around. We aren’t trying to get one kid’s name in the paper more than anyone else’s, we just try to make the best opportunities.”
Despite losing 22 seniors and head coach Darrel Gorham from 2004’s championship squad, Rifle is back in the title game and will host Florence on Saturday.
“After last year, I remember all I wanted to do was get back here,” said Wells, who was the defensive coordinator last year. “And holy crap ” we’re back.”
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The 4A state softball playoffs ended for the Rifle Lady Bears Saturday with a pair of shutout losses to Elizabeth 10-0 and Roosevelt 8-0 in the regional round at Johnstown.