Tough to take: Rifle fights hard, but Pueblo East pulls away to win 3A title game
PUEBLO EAST 30, RIFLE 14
Rifle 7 0 7 0 — 14
Pueblo East 0 7 7 16 — 30
R — Ty Leyba 37 pass from Layton Stutsman (Eduardo Sandoval kick), :34
PE — Daniel Martin 5 run (Sebastian Benavidez kick), 7:33.
R — Brock Clark 39 run (Sandoval kick), 11:24.
PE — Bruno DeRose 8 pass from Martin (Benavidez kick), 5:51.
PE — Safety (Damon Sabbagh tackled Gage Johnson in end zone), 10:33.
PE — Bryson Torres 80 run (Benavidez kick), 10:12.
PE — Martin 22 run (Benevidez kick), 8:33
First Downs 7 27
Rushes-yards 21-125 57-333
Passing yards 87 119
Total yards 212 452
Comp-Att-Int 5-11-1 11-20-1
Fumbles-lost 1-1 4-1
Punts-Avg. 4-43.25 2-22.5
Penalties-yards 8-68 6-55
RUSHING — Rifle, Clark 8-61, Blaine Vance 7-55, Leyba 2-8, Stutsman 4-1. Pueblo East, Martin 30-181, Torres 22-157, Sonny Arellano 3-(minus-1), Team 2-(minus-4).
PASSING — Rifle, Stutsman 5-11-87-1. Pueblo East, Martin 11-20-119-1.
RECEIVING — Rifle, Leyba 1-37, Bosshardt 1-33, Gage Johnson 1-(minus-1), Austin Knight 1-12, Brooks Pressler 1-6. Pueblo East, DeRose 4-55, Torres 2-9, Kevin Ribarich 2-18, Jeremiah Arellano 2-20, Luke Padula 1-12.
PUEBLO — Tears streamed down the faces Jose Prado and many of his teammates from the Rifle High School football team on Saturday.
Prado was one of the 14 seniors on a Bears squad that had just lost to Pueblo East, 30-14, in the Class 3A state title game in front of more than 10,000 people at Dutch Clark Stadium. The Bears had plenty of chances against the Eagles, holding off multiple scoring chances that the Eagles had made for themselves.
But, for the second time in three years, the Bears weren’t able to bring home the state championship trophy. And after the final horn had sounded, no one wearing blue and gold liked that feeling.
“We all know how this felt,” Prado said, fighting back more tears. “We fought hard to the very end. But I guess not everything turns out the way you want it to, right?”
The honor of hoisting the state championship trophy went to Pueblo East (11-3), which used a fourth-quarter scoring spurt to not only pull away, but snap a 14-all tie at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Still, the Bears (12-2), the four-time 3A Western Slope League champion, were right in the game until the very end despite being outplayed for much of the game, as East held a 452-212 advantage in total yards.
Not that it made the loss any easier.
“I’ve often wondered that,” Rifle coach Damon Wells said. “If you’re going to lose, would you rather lose by a point or by 50? I don’t think that matters. Losing hurts, especially on this grand of a stage.”
Pueblo East got a grand performance from junior quarterback Daniel Martin, who finished with exactly 300 yards of total offense. He had 181 rushing yards on 30 carries with touchdown runs of 5 and 22 yards to go with an 11-for-20, 119-yard passing performance with a TD and an interception.
“He’s just a good player,” said Rifle’s Ty Leyba, a defensive back and running back whose 37-yard touchdown reception at the end of the first quarter gave the Bears an early 7-0 lead. “There’s nothing that he did that really surprised us. He’s just hard to stop.”
Rifle’s defense managed to do that just when it needed to, though. Twice the Bears turned away potential Pueblo East scoring drives in the first half, forcing an incomplete pass on a fourth-and-goal at the 6 on the Eagles’ opening drive before Tyler Bosshardt intercepted Martin at the end of the second quarter after the Eagles had moved the ball to the Bears’ 17. Martin, however, got his 5-yard TD run with 7 minutes, 33 seconds left in the second that made the score 7-7 at halftime following Sebastian Benavidez’s point-after kick.
Rifle answered to start the third, though, as Brock Clark broke away for a 39-yard TD run with just 36 seconds gone in the third quarter, and the thousands of Rifle fans who made the 300-mile drive were on their feet when Eduardo Sandoval booted the extra point through the uprights. East responded, though, driving 60 yards on 10 plays to knot the score at 14-all on Martin’s 8-yard pass to Bruno DeRose with 5:51 left in the quarter.
The Bears turned away another east scoring opportunity when Ty Leyba tackled Martin at the half-yard line on a fourth-and-goal at the 1, giving the ball back to the Bears. East’s Marco Perez, however, tackled Rifle’s Gage Johnson in the end zone for a safety after Johnson had caught a deflected Stutsman pass in the back of the end zone.
And East built on its momentum. Bryson Torres, who had just 42 rushing yards to that point of the game, popped off an 80-yard TD run to stake the Eagles to a 23-14 lead. Perez was there to recover a Rifle fumble on the Bears’ next possession and, two plays later, Martin scrambled in from 22 yards out to score the final touchdown of the game.
Rifle couldn’t answer on its final two possessions, and East milked the remaining time off the clock.
And when the Bears came off the field, many of them were at a loss for words.
“They were really aggressive,” Clark said of East, himself fighting back tears. “They deserved to win today.”
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It was a close game, but after some thrilling back-and-forth plays the Rifle Bears were able to pull off the 28-20 victory over The Academy on May 1.