Rifle wins, heads to quarterfinals
RIFLE – It’s simple. It’s bland. It’s unimaginative.Yet for all the unflattering adjectives that describe Rifle’s offense, there’s a reason teams in the Class 3A division can’t argue with it.It works.Trailing 10-0 at intermission to Elizabeth, in the second half the Bears returned to the basics that have vaulted them to success the last dozen years.And, when Rifle decides to run the football, opposing defenses usually wilt.
Or, in the Cardinals’ case, have their feathers plucked.After a listless two quarters of running, Tyler Thompson exploded in the second half. The senior bolted past Elizabeth for 168 of his game-high 196 yards to put Rifle ahead for good halfway through the third quarter in a 35-10 win that advanced the Bears to next week’s 3A quarterfinals with Alamosa.”Nothing really changed except our attitude,” Thompson said of the 35-point differential Rifle posted in the second half. “At that point nobody was going to back down. And nobody gave up. That’s what won the game for us.”Along with the spiffy running Thompson provided. Needing just a little more than six minutes of playing time in the third quarter, Thompson zipped into the end zone for touchdown runs of 50, 26 and 53 yards for a 21-10 lead.
But there were a few other factors that helped the Bears’ turnaround. Like putting Caleb Powell in the backfield with Thompson. The ex-Texan big man took some of the charge out of Elizabeth’s young linemen. Two Powell runs totaling 18 yards took the focus off Thompson, which Thompson later took advantage of.His 50-yard run at midfield, on the heels of a 17-yard reverse by Nick Alderson, put Rifle on the scoreboard.That in turn sparked the Bears’ defense into action. Elizabeth quarterback Ethan McKinney, whose passing skills slit Rifle for 120-plus yards in the first half, received a rude awakening after Thompson’s score. Faced with a third-and-12-yards-to-go situation at the 50, McKinney never saw Bears’ defensive back Ryan McIntosh.Big mistake.The Cardinals, forced into focusing on Rifle’s hard-charging linemen, failed to pick up McIntosh, who zoomed in unblocked on McKinney to force a fumble.
“Coach (Damon Wells) told us to put more pressure on their quarterback,” explained Thompson, who’s also a defensive starter. “Everybody just fought off their blocks, and the defensive line did a great job in the second half.”An alert Kyle Laidlaw promptly swooped in and gathered the fumble, which allowed Rifle’s offense to get on the field.Which in turn produced Rifle’s second touchdown of the period three plays later when Thompson scored what would be the game-winning TD from 26 yards out. From then on, it was all Rifle.And, it wasn’t ready to turn off the taps just yet.
Thompson raised the margin to 21-10 when Elizabeth’s defense allowed the Bear runner to go in untouched from 53 yards out with five minutes, 18 seconds left in the quarter.The fun for Rifle continued into the fourth period when Colby McFarlin buzzed his way past a bunch of dog-tired Cardinal defenders in an electric 65-yard run, creating an 18-point advantage, once McIntosh booted his fourth of five successful extra point kicks, with more than 11 minutes left to play. After righting its ship in the second half – all of Elizabeth’s 10 points came in the second quarter – Rifle’s defense created, then cashed in on, an Elizabeth turnover for another touchdown. Lineman Justin Stone pounced on a Cardinal bad snap in the end zone after the ball flew over McKinney’s head on a fourth-down snap from Elizabeth’s 11-yard line.This coming Saturday, the Bears, who raised their record to 8-3 with the win, have a bigger playoff challenge ahead of them.Next up for Rifle is unbeaten Alamosa, which raised its 2006 record to 11-0 with a first-round 52-14 win over Colorado Springs’ Harrison. Rifle won the rights to host the quarterfinal contest by winning a pre-determined coin flip between the two schools, held by the Colorado High School Activities Association prior to both teams’ first-round contest. The game will take place at 1 p.m. on Saturday.
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After losing the 3A Western Slope League race in a tough, five-set loss to Basalt on April 15, the Coal Ridge High volleyball team finds its playoff fate partly out of its own hands.