Rifle’s comeback bid falls short in loss to Resurrection Christian
The No. 7 Rifle Bears battled back from a 14-0 hole Saturday at Windsor High School against the No. 2 Resurrection Christian Cougars, but the Bears couldn’t get over the final hump in the second round of the 2A state playoffs, falling to the Cougars 21-14.
Rifle made it a 21-14 game in the early in the fourth quarter and was in the middle of a strong drive down the field looking for the tying score when an questionable illegal cut block was called in the tackle box on the Bears, stalling the Bears’ most dominant drive of the game, effectively killing momentum.
The Bears, which utilize the cut block in their wing-T offense, weren’t called for an illegal cut block all game until midway through the fourth quarter, taking the Bears from a 3rd and 2 that they converted and push them back to a 3rd and 17, leading to a fake punt that turned the ball over on downs.
“That was a tough call,” said Damon Wells, Rifle’s head coach. It was a short yardage situation that we were able to pick up, and to have that push us back was tough for our boys. We just didn’t get it done in the end.”
Prior to the call that played a major role in changing the game in that situation, the Bears were hitting their stride in the second half after a rough first half saw the Bears turn the ball over on two straight possession, including a 56-yard pick-6 by senior Zane Zuhlke on the fourth play from scrimmage for Rifle.
In an early 7-0 hole, the Bears marched to the Cougars’ 40-yard line on the next possession before turning the ball over on downs, resulting in a 19-yard rushing touchdown by Resurrection Christian senior Alex Riedel made it a 14-0 game with 2:28 left in the first quarter. The Cougars’ second score of the game was set up by a 31-yard run on an option pitch from Zuhkle to senior Kyle Lueck on the Cougars’ second offensive play from scrimmage.
In a 14-0 hole early, the Bears got tough and responded with a 14-play, 74-yard drive for a touchdown.
Junior quarterback Holden Stutsman found senior Dalton Pruett for an 11-yard gain in the left flat, before senior fullback Tanner Vines rushed for seven, three, and three yards, drawing a 15-yard facemask on this third run, putting the Bears deep in Resurrection Christian’s territory.
Eight plays after the facemask, Vines punched one in from 1-yard out, making it a 14-7 game with 7:06 left in the first half after an extra point from senior Eddie Ruiz.
After the lengthy drive had Rifle feeling good, the Cougars responded quickly, aided by an odd late hit call on a runner still falling to the ground. Following the 15-yard flag on a run by Lueck put the Cougars in Rifle territory, Zuhlke found senior Sam Barnett on a slant route, leading to a 41-yard catch-and-run for the score, making it a 21-7 game with 5:29 left following the extra point by freshman kicker Rylie Baynes.
The Bears attempted to respond, but Zuhlke picked off Stustman at the Resurrection Christian 30-yard line late in the half. Fortunately, the Rifle defense held before halftime, keeping the Cougars out of the end zone, giving the Bears a shot at a comeback in the second half.
Coming out of the locker room, the Bears got a big 4th-and-inches stop on Zuhlke on a quarterback sneak, giving the ball to Rifle’s offense, which looked to respond from three first-half turnovers.
That’s what Rifle did, aided by a few big penalties on the Cougars.
Resurrection Christian blocked a Stutsman punt, but the junior picked up the ball and tried to make something happen. He was swarmed by Resurrection Christian defenders, and in the process of being tackled has his helmet ripped off, leading to a 15-yard penalty and an automatic first down for the Bears.
Taking advantage of the second life on the drive, the Bears marched to the Cougars’ 26-yard line before a false start and an interception by Zuhlke seemed to end the drive again. But a roughing the passer call on the Cougars gave Rifle another chance.
The Bears took advantage as on the very next play Stustman found junior Levi Warfel on a jump-ball at the goal line that the junior skied over a Cougar defender for, resulting in a 26-yard touchdown, pulling the Bears to within one score again at 21-14.
“That [comeback] says a lot about our boys and their character,” said Wells. “We as an exorbitant amount from our boys, and they always respond. I just can’t say enough about these kids and the fight they showed here today.”
Down one score, Rifle was rolling in the second half, getting another stop on defense, resulting in a 17-yard punt by the Cougars that set the Bears up at the 40-yard line.
With great field position, the Bears started to chew up yards on a tired Cougars defense as Vines rushed for 8, 3, and 9 yards, moving the chaines in the process.
Following runs of 7 and 1-yard by Vines that set up that pivotal 3rd and 2, the Bears turned to Vines again. The senior bowled through the line for 3 yards, but the call for illegal block wiped it out. Two plays later Rifle tried a fake punt with Pruett, but he gained just 4 yards, resulting in a turnover on downs.
As time ticked down, Rifle got another stop defensively, but Cougar punter Dominic Tricarico redeemed himself, pinning the Bears at their own 7-yard line with a 20-yard punt.
Facing 93 yards in front of them, the Bears had to turn to the air with under two minutes to go, but Rifle couldn’t connect on the big pass, resulting in a turnover on downs that allowed the Cougars to kneel the ball twice, ending the game and Rifle’s season.
“It doesn’t matter what round you’re in in the playoffs; losing never feels good,” said Wells. “But we know that when you’re in the playoffs, 15 out of the 16 teams will end the season with a loss. That’s just the way it is, but it’s a learning opportunity for this program. We’re very proud of our kids for making it this far, and the season they had.”
In the loss, Vines rushed for 113 yard and a touchdown on 30 carries. Zuhlke picked off three passes for the Cougars, while Lueck rushed for 78 yards on 11 yards, 31 of which came on one carry.
The Bears finish the year 9-2 (4-1 2A Western Slope League), winning the league championship in the first season in the 2A WSL.
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