Rifle’s final game finally here
It’s here. The football game nobody dared to dream about five weeks ago when – then 5-3 – Rifle began its improbable run to Saturday’s Class 3A state championship game against Sterling.
It’s here. In Rifle. At Bears Stadium. The 1 p.m. kickoff will take place in front of what will likely be one of the largest crowds in Rifle football history.That’s amazing, especially for a team that was on the verge of being out of the playoffs entirely after a 28-14 loss to Moffat County earlier in the season.How did the Bears pull it together so fast? Teamwork and hard work.”The kids have been working for this since last spring,” said Rifle head coach Darrel Gorham, who piloted the 10-3 Bears to their first state title game in 31 years.It’s also the first time the school has hosted the state championship game since Rifle’s 1952 defeat at the hands of Fort Morgan. Both of the school’s football state titles – the 1961 co-championship in a tie with Louisville and the ’73 outright title over Yuma – were on the road.”They have earned the right to play for the state championship at home, and they will work hard (Saturday) because they will be playing in front of their peers, their moms and dads, and their grandmas and grandpas.”
Assistant coach Todd Ellis, who coached with Gorham throughout his entire 14 years as Rifle’s head coach, said the Bears’ current five-game win streak came after the team realized the year could end without a playoff game. That was not going to happen.”What we did was tell the kids, ‘Now you have to win,'” Ellis said after the Moffat County loss. “And the kids seemed OK. Their goal was something bigger. “It was like they were thinking, ‘We could beat Palisade, Glenwood and Moffat (all losses) and not win a state championship. Instead, we’d rather win a state championship.'”The Bears polished off Montezuma-Cortez and Battle Mountain by identical 33-0 scores to finished fourth in the 3A Western Slope Conference for the final available playoff spot.In the playoffs, Florence, Conifer and Niwot all fell, setting up Saturday’s showdown against the Sterling.”I don’t think you get this far without playing against people that are good,” Gorham said. “We have faced a good passing quarterback in every round of the playoffs, and now we’re facing another one this week.”
And Sterling quarterback Jeff Squier is one of Colorado’s best, regardless of classification. In 13 games, the Tigers senior has thrown for 2,088 yards and 30 touchdowns and has been intercepted 10 times in 240 passes.Derek Pilkington is Sterling’s main receiver. He’s averaged 18.4 yards per catch in 46 receptions with 12 touchdowns. When the Tigers run, Brandon Steele normally gets the call. The senior has 749 yards in 164 carries.Rifle has relied on the running game for the bulk of its offense most of the year. But the team has found success through the air as the playoffs have progressed.Running back Rocky Rauman has racked up 1,789 yards and averages 6.8 yards per carry while scoring 24 touchdowns. Quarterback Kyle Sanderson has hit on 52 percent of his passes (96-of-184) for 1,154 and 13 touchdowns.Both had key moments in last week’s 23-20 semifinal victory over Niwot. Rauman finished with 154 yards in 25 carries against the previously unbeaten Cougars. Sanderson had a touchdown pass and kicked a 27-yard field goal in the contest. But it was the team play – not individuals – that lifted Rifle to the championship game Gorham said.”We have no individual stars on this team,” he said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen this week, but as long as we stay together as a team and not worry about individual efforts or notoriety. I think we’ll be fine.””We have no individual stars on this team,” he said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen this week, but as long as we stay together as a team and not worry about individual efforts or notoriety. I think we’ll be fine.”
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