Rifle holds off Glenwood on goal-line stand
On a series of plays reminiscent to last season’s thrilling win over Palisade, the Rifle Bears’ defense came up with a late goal-line stand Friday against the visiting Glenwood Demons to preserve a 27-21 win in a back-and-forth rivalry matchup at Bears Stadium in Rifle.
Holding a 27-21 lead following a Brian Escobar touchdown and a missed extra point, the Rifle defense needed to come up with a few late stops to keep the Bears’ league title hopes alive,. They did just that as senior linebacker Blaine Vance and junior linebacker Pedro Carreon played a big part in stuffing the Demons four times from the 8-yard line, giving the Bears the win in exciting fashion on Senior Night while sending the Demons — who played their hearts out for 36 minutes — home with heartbreak.
“All the credit in the world has to go to Glenwood tonight,” Rifle Head Coach Damon Wells said. “As always, their kids were incredibly well-prepared and really impressed me. Mostly, I would say that I couldn’t be more proud of our boys for the effort and fight, because it certainly wasn’t easy … but that’s why we play high school sports is to be in situations like that.
“I think the tragedy of the situation is that it wasn’t going to work out for somebody down there (at the goal line), so we’re thankful and couldn’t be happier that we ended up on the right end of it, but I hope that every kid out on that field will lead better lives because they’ve had experiences like that.”
Last season the Bears defeated a shorthanded Demons team by a lopsided score of 55-6, but Friday’s game in front of a packed house turned out to be arguably the game of the year on the Western Slope and one that anyone involved in won’t soon forget.
“It was a good game,” Glenwood Head Coach Rocky Whitworth said. “I’m glad I was there to watch it; it was a great battle, but it’s highly disappointing for us to come up short there. We had two starters missing tonight, and I know we’re all banged up this time of year, but I’m incredibly proud of the boys. For high school boys to come out on a night like this and play their hearts out (for) their towns, their communities, there’s nothing better about the young people and the communities to see the young kids compete like that for both sides.”
Despite picking up the win over Glenwood, things didn’t start out well for Rifle. On the fourth play from scrimmage, the Bears fumbled, setting the Demons up near midfield, but a strong defensive series forced a turnover on downs from the Demons.
Glenwood quickly returned the favor as the Bears mounted a seven-play drive before turning it over on downs just outside of the red zone. Rifle then forced a three-and-out, but on the fourth play of their next offensive possession, the Bears put the ball on the ground again, giving Glenwood a short field.
Looking to take advantage of the short field, Glenwood turned to senior running back Easton Gaddis, who carried the ball four times on the drive, with his last carry going for an 11-yard touchdown early in the second quarter to give the Demons a 7-0 lead over the Bears.
In hopes of pulling even with Glenwood, Rifle took advantage of multiple chunk plays on their next drive as Escobar picked up 16 yards on his first carry of the game before junior quarterback Luke Ellis found junior running back Brandon Fletchall for 18 yards out of the backfield. Vance then gained 13 yards up the middle to get into the red zone, where Fletchall capped off the impressive Rifle drive with an 8-yard burst off the right side to tie the game at 7-7 midway through the second quarter.
But in a preview of things to come later in the game, Glenwood answered quickly as senior quarterback Jake Townsley recorded runs of 37 and 21 yards before keeping it from 1-yard out to put the Demons on top 14-7 just over a minute later.
Rifle and Glenwood would trade punts on their next offensive possessions before the Bears would mount a drive to tie the game at halftime. Junior running back Camron Shepherd scored from three yards out to send the two rivals into the break tied at 14-14.
Coming out of the half looking to gain momentum, the Demons quickly went three-and-out, giving the ball back to the Bears, but fortunately for Glenwood, Townsley intercepted Ellis on the third play from scrimmage for Rifle, setting the Demons up near midfield.
Townsley hit Gaddis for a 12-yard completion across the middle before later finding senior receiver Luke Patch along the left sideline for 18 yards and a personal foul penalty on Rifle. Three plays later Gaddis plunged in from seven yards out to give Glenwood the lead, 21-14, with 6:28 to go in the third quarter.
Much like they did in the first half, Rifle again relied on some chunk plays to answer quickly as Vance bounced off would-be tacklers before racing 26 yards up the seam, setting up Shepherd’s second touchdown of the game, this one from 24 yards out, to tie the game up at 21-21 late in the third quarter.
On Glenwood’s next possession the offense would come up short as a 35-yard field goal came up just shy of the crossbar, giving Rifle the ball back with a chance to take the lead for the first time in the game.
Following a drive of 80 yards on 10 plays largely riding the back of Vance, Rifle took the lead on Escobar’s 9-yard touchdown. However, the extra point would fail, giving the Bears a 27-21 lead with nine minutes left in the game.
The two teams would again trade punts before Glenwood would mount one last drive starting near midfield.
Townsley and Gaddis got things started with runs of 15 and 12 yards, respectively, setting up what appeared to be the game-tying touchdown by Gaddis on a 21-yard burst off the right side, but a holding call negated the scoring play, forcing Glenwood to try again.
Two plays after the holding call, Townsley found sophomore receiver Gavin Olson along the right sideline for 12 yards and another personal foul on Rifle, putting the ball at the Rifle 8-yard line with just over two minutes left in the game.
A 4-yard carry by Townsley and a 2-yard run by Gaddis put the Demons on the doorstep with just over 40 seconds left in the game, but a loss of two on third down by Gaddis put it all on the line on 4th and goal from the Rifle 4-yard line.
Gaddis picked up three yards on the fourth-down carry, coming up just inches shy of the game-tying touchdown and possible upset win over the rival Bears.
As the Rifle sideline erupted in sheer joy, Glenwood was left heartbroken at the final gun thinking about what could have been on a beautiful Friday night in western Colorado.
“This is tough,” an emotional Townsley said after the game. “This was by far our best game of the last two years for this group that we have. Those were a rough last two plays; that’s probably the most I’ve wanted something for a long time But I think knowing that we can compete and almost beat a team like Rifle, who is a well-coached and well-disciplined team, I think that we’ll take this to heart and know that we can beat almost anyone that we want to.”
With the loss, Glenwood falls to 4-5 (2-2 4A Western Slope League) on the season, while Rifle improves to 8-1 (4-0 4A WSL). The win for Rifle sets up a league-title showdown with the Palisade Bulldogs (8-1, 4-0) next Friday at Stocker Stadium in Grand Junction.