Rifle’s road warriors continue playoffs
Playing most of its state football playoff games on the road hasn’t bothered Rifle so far. “I think our kids travel real well,” Bears head coach Darrel Gorham said of Saturday’s Class 3A semifinal game at Niwot. “The big thing is the kids are able to focus on football.”I think traveling for us is a positive thing for us,” Gorham said. “We’ll get more time with the kids to talk about football. We’ll have more time to watch film with them. Hopefully, that will help us out.
And the Bears have reaped benefits from their extra study time.Rifle, 9-3, overall, has won five of its six road games this season, including a 28-20 first-round playoff victory at Florence two weeks ago. The Bears’ only blemish away from home was a 35-31 defeat to Palisade at Stocker Stadium in Grand Junction on Oct. 7. Palisade, the defending 3A champion, is also on the road for its semifinal contest at Sterling. Both games are scheduled to start at 1 p.m.Saturday’s game is Rifle’s first appearance in the semifinals in 30 years. In the 1974 semis, the Bears – the ’73 2A state champions – fell 28-12 to Salida. The loss broke Rifle’s 22-game winning streak entering the contest.No matter the location, a big crowd of Rifle supporters is expected to attend.
“Everybody’s excited about and everybody’s talking about the game in town,” Gorham said. “These kids deserve it. They’ve had a long season. They started working on this last spring.”All that work and preparation will be tested when the Bears go man-on-man against 12-0 Niwot. Niwot downed Western Slope Conference runner Moffat County, 22-12, in Craig last week to advance.The Cougars, Gorham said, “are a 50-50 team” on offense, which means they are equally conformable running or passing the ball.Quarterback Clint Stapp has thrown 23 touchdown passes for more than 1,800 passing yards on 105 completions. The senior’s key receivers are wideout Aaron Watson (35 catches, 10 TDs), tight end Matt Hendrick and Nathan Dorzwieler, with 13 receptions each. Running backs Matthew Braman and Paul Dixon have rushed for 1,000 yards between them.
The Cougars are also big up front. Anchoring the line is two-way starter Jeromy Hauck, a 6-foot, 5-inch, 265- pound senior tackle who has signed a letter-of-intent to play at Colorado. Chris Maxon, Niwot’s biggest player at 6-5, 275, is the other tackle. Juniors Sam Fortune and La’Mar West, at 230 and 250 pounds, respectively, are the guards. “They are just big all around and they do things well,” Gorham said. “What we’re going to do is concentrate on what we do well.”Which is run the ball. Rocky Rauman leads the Bears in rushing with 1,629 yards in 237 carries, averaging 6.9 yards per carry, with a team-high 24 touchdowns. Casie Dunlap, the blocking back in Rifle’s I-formation, has racked up 440 yards in 100 carries.If Rifle defeats Niwot, the 3A state championship game will be played in Rifle, regardless of which team wins the Palisade-Sterling semifinal.If Rifle defeats Niwot, the 3A state championship game will be played in Rifle, regardless of which team wins the Palisade-Sterling semifinal.
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