Rifle out-muscles Pueblo County in 48-22 win
Facing a first and goal from Rifle’s 5-yard line midway through the second quarter Friday night at Bears Stadium, the visiting Pueblo County Hornets looked to pull to within at least 2 points before the half near the end of a long drive. Rifle’s defense had other plans, though, as the Bears stood tall, forcing the Hornets to settle for a 22-yard field goal from sophomore Aaron Krinsky.
The defensive stop ultimately took the wind out of the Hornets’ sails on the night, sending Rifle to a 48-22 win in non-league action at home.
Following the goal line stand that was ultimately a 4-point swing, Rifle scored quickly to take a 20-9 lead into the half, before then coming out of the break and wearing down the visiting Hornets in Rifle fashion.
“We’re really proud of our kids,” Damon Wells, Rifle’s head coach said. “This was a very physical football game. We weren’t surprised at all by it in any way, shape or form with what Pueblo County brought. Coach Pinkerton has a long, rich history of success; their kids are tough. That’s why I was especially proud of our boys representing themselves in the way that they did.”
Early on, Pueblo County got off to a rough start as a bad snap on the first punt of the game set up Rifle at Pueblo County’s 16-yard line. Six plays later, following three Rifle penalties, the Bears got into the end zone as senior Levi Warfel scored from 6 yards out – his first of four touchdowns on the night, staking Rifle to an early 7-0 lead.
Credit to the Hornets though, as Pueblo County shook off the rough start to respond quickly with a touchdown drive of their own.
Senior quarterback Chase Hartman hooked up with senior tight end Roger Valdilles for a 24-yard gain down the left sideline before senior running back Jose Handford capped off the drive with a 38-yard sprint off left tackle, making it a 7-6 game with 4:51 left in the first quarter following a missed extra point.
Rifle roared right back with a response as Warfel rushed for 20 yards on one carry, and senior Kenny Tlaxcala added 13 yards on the ground before capping off the scoring drive with a 7-yard sprint around left end on a toss sweep, diving inside the front-left pylon for the score, making it a 14-6 game.
That’s when Rifle’s defense came up large.
The Hornets put together a lengthy drive after starting at their own 37-yard line, marching to Rifle’s 5-yard line in 14 plays before stalling out.
On 1st and Goal, junior running back Ethan Mauger picked up a yard, but on 2nd and 3rd down, Hartman and Handford were dropped for losses, forcing Krinsky to chip in a 22-yard field goal, making it a 14-9 game with 3:59 left in the first half.
After that drive stalled, it was mostly all Rifle as Warfel scored from 3 yards out following two runs of 11 yards each, and a 21-yard hookup from senior quarterback Dalton Stutsman to Tlaxcala, giving the Bears a 20-9 lead.
Pueblo County tried to mount a drive late in the first half, but the Bears defense stood tall, sending the two teams into the half with Rifle in front by 11.
Coming out of the half, Rifle executed at a high level on both sides of the ball, pulling away for the 26-point win.
That execution got off to a semi-slow start though as on the first play from scrimmage in the second half, junior Talon Cordova fumbled the ball away, giving Pueblo County some life.
Rifle’s defense answered the bell though, forcing a 3-and-out that led to a Pueblo County punt. Warfel came up big on the punt return, sprinting into Pueblo County territory on a 30-yard punt return to give the Bears possession at Pueblo County’s 39-yard line. That’s when Warfel really took over.
The senior gained 15 yards on the first carry of the drive, 22 yards on the second, and then punched in his third touchdown of the game from 2 yards out, giving the Bears a 27-9 lead with 8:46 left in the third quarter.
Pueblo quickly responded, going 67 yards in five plays as Handford picked up chunks of yards on the ground, gaining 11, 32 and then 11 on the ground with the final 11 yards going for a touchdown, pulling the Hornets to within 12 at 27-15 with 6:45 left in the third quarter.
The Hornets tried to catch the Bears off guard with an onside kick try, but Rifle recovered near midfield, and two plays later Warfel sprinted off left tackle for a 35-yard touchdown, pushing Rifle in front, 34-15 with 5:58 left in the third quarter.
“I just waited for a second and let things open up in front of me,” Warfel said. “The offensive line did a great job, and they made it easy for me, honestly.”
Once again, the Hornets responded as Handford threw a halfback pass to sophomore wide receiver Corbin Spear from 19 yards out, making it 34-22. That would be all for the Hornets on the night though as Tlaxcala scored from 10 yards out midway through the fourth quarter before Stustman found Tlaxcala from 3 yards out, capping off the win in impressive fashion. On Rifle’s second-to-last offensive drive of the game, the Bears picked up first downs on five of eight rushing attempts, picking up yards in bunches.
“The guys up front worked hard all week; they knew it was going to be a physical game,” Warfel said. “I can’t say enough about the job they did all night long for us in the backfield. I’m just really proud of the offensive line and the way they fought tonight.”
In the win, Warfel rushed for 200 yards and four touchdowns on 20 carriers.
Rifle (3-0) travels to rival Glenwood Springs next Friday with kickoff scheduled for 7 p.m. at Stubler Memorial Field.
“Part of the beautiful thing with us playing in so many big games over the last decade is that I’m certain it’s going to be just another game for us,” Wells said. “I’m certain it’s going to be a special environment. It will be a good high school football game and I’m blessed to be able to be there and be part of it.”
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