State playoff notebook: Ball possession key for Bears |

State playoff notebook: Ball possession key for Bears

Jon Mitchell
Rifle High school offensive lineman Austin Shepherd (63) sets up to block for teammate Brock Clark (8) during the Bears' 15-0 victory over Roosevelt on Nov. 15 in the Class 3A quarterfinals in Johnstown. Rifle's ability to hang on to the football with a stellar running game helped the Bears move into the state semifinals.
Jon Mitchell / Post Independent |

All of the snow that fell during Rifle’s 15-0 victory over Roosevelt in the second round of the Class 3A state playoffs on Nov. 15 could have spelled trouble for the Bears.

It did at first, but it didn’t by the time the final horn sounded at Peterson Field. In a way, it helped to determine how Rifle played in reaching Saturday afternoon’s Class 3A semifinal home game against Fort Morgan.

“Any time a team can create turnovers, it increases their chances of winning,” Rifle running back Brock Clark said. “Our coaches have always said we’ll be more successful if we hold on to the ball.”

In more ways than one.

Rifle did have two turnovers against the Roughriders, with one coming on a lost fumble to end the Bears’ game-opening drive and the other coming on an interception on their first possession of the second half. Beyond that, however, Rifle’s offense ran nearly three-times as many plays as Roosevelt did, running 67 offensive plays to the 35 Roosevelt ran. By halftime, Rifle had run 34 plays against the Roughriders’ defense in the cold and snowy conditions.

Weather might be a factor again during Saturday’s game at Bears Stadium, but forecasts Wednesday night were proving more favorable. Temperatures are expected to reach the low 40s by the 1 p.m. kickoff with a 20 percent chance of rain showers.

About Fort Morgan

The Mustangs (10-2 overall) are the No. 10 seed in the 16-team state playoff bracket, but they’ve reached the state semis by defeating two higher-seeded teams in seventh-seeded Holy Family (35-18) on Nov. 8 and second-seeded Evergreen (13-7) this past Saturday. Their two losses this season have come to Brush (35-3) in the Aug. 29 season opener, and Lutheran (22-16), which was unbeaten until it lost to Palisade in the first round. The Mustangs finished second in the Colorado 7 League standings to Lutheran.

Fort Morgan’s leading rusher is sophomore Tate Kembel, who has 1,182 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns on 148 carries. Senior quarterback Joey Schneider is in his second season as the Mustangs’ starting quarterback, completing 54-of-113 passes (47.8 percent) for 1,018 yards and 12 touchdowns with seven interceptions. The Mustangs hang their hats on their defense, though, forcing two turnovers per game and averaging two sacks per game while allowing just 96 points this season. That, mind you, came after they’d allowed 35 points in their season opener against a Brush team that will play for the Class 2A state championship against Kent Denver on Saturday.

Looking ahead

Two years ago, the Colorado High School Activities Association decided that instead of playing state championship football games at a neutral site, state title games would be played at home sites. And in order for that to happen, seeding and home games play a factor in determining that site.

The winner of Saturday’s game between the sixth-seeded Bears and 10th-seeded Mustangs will play either top-seeded Discovery Canyon out of Colorado Springs or fourth-seeded Pueblo East. Also factored in are the number of home playoff games each team has played.

There’s a stipulation under that rule, however: the stadium must seat no less than three times the school’s registered enrollment, which tops out at 1,049 for 3A football.

Pueblo East is in the best position of the four teams. If the Eagles (9-3) win, they’ll host Rifle or Fort Morgan regardless of who wins Saturday’s game in Rifle since they’re not only a higher seed, but because they’ll have played just one home game through the postseason game up until the Nov. 29 title game. That would likely put the game at Dutch Clark Stadium, which has seated 12,000 for some football games in the past.

Discovery Canyon, as the tournament’s top seed, would also host regardless of Saturday’s winner in Rifle. That game could be played at either District 20 Stadium next to Liberty High School in Colorado Springs, or even Gerry Berry Stadium next to Wasson High School, which closed down following the 2012-13 school year.

Rifle has experience in both towns the past two seasons, beating Pueblo East 56-6 in the 2012 semis at Dutch Clark before falling to eventual 3A state champion Coronado, 34-31, in a first-round matchup played last year at Gerry Berry.

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