Who’s No. 1 now? Rifle stuns Palisade | PostIndependent.com

Who’s No. 1 now? Rifle stuns Palisade

Dale Shrull
Rifle Citizen Telegram

RIFLE – This was suppose to be Palisade’s game to shine but the Rifle Bears had other thoughts.

Proving that grumblings of their demise may be a bit premature, Rifle (3-1, 1-0) put together a tremendous team effort to shock the No. 1-ranked Palisade Bulldogs (4-1, 0-1) 35-14 Friday Night.

With star running back Troy Weiss on the bench with a bum ankle, the Bears used a balanced offense and a big-play defense to pull away from the Bulldogs.

It was a performance that head coach Darrel Gorham said was one of the best he’s seen in quite a while.

“Without a doubt, this was a great win for us,” he said. “All week we talked about character and working hard. This team has a lot of character.”

The undersized Bears never appeared to be physically overmatched. By using gang tackling on defense and physical play on both sides of the ball, Rifle never allowed the bigger Bulldogs to play their patented smash-mouth game.

Senior running back Marcus Carrion ran for two touchdowns and connected with J.R. Childress on a 36-yard TD pass to lead the Bears to the big Western Slope League win.

The game’s early momentum took a huge turn on Palisade’s first drive when they methodically drove the ball down the field and had a first and goal from the five. Three times the Bears defense halted the Bulldogs, then Mitch Kosht, Jesse Long and a host of Bears stuffed Palisade quarterback Dustin Harris for a loss of two on fourth down from the one.

Rifle took the ball from the three and went on a 13-play, 97-yard drive capped by a 2-yard run by Carrion to take a 7-0 lead.

Offensively, junior quarterback Kyle Sanderson and wide receiver Aaron Jewell picked the Bulldogs apart with a short and mid-ranged passing game. Getting excellent protection from the offensive line, Sanderson went 15 of 21 for 148 yards and one TD. On the first drive, he was 6 of 7 for 63 yards.

Victor Green scored on a 28-yard run to pull Palisade to within 7-6 in the first quarter.

Then the Bears took it right back down the field, scoring on a spectacular 20-yard TD from Sanderson to Jewell. With Palisade’s Alex Swanson draped on Jewell like a cape, the 6-foot-4-inch senior went up and snared the pass in the left corner of the end zone for the score. Jewell was quite a gem all night for the Bears catching seven balls for 83 yards and making a diving one-handed interception in the final minute of the game.

“This is the best thing that’s ever happened,” an emotional Jewell said. “We knew what it would take, and we went out and did it.”

To start the third quarter, Rifle put together a meticulous 73-yard clock-eating 18-play drive that took up 7:17. Childres went the final two yards for the score to give the Bears a 21-6 lead. The Bears overcame three penalties, and converted five third downs and one fourth down on the drive.

Sanderson hit Rocky Rauman, who started for the injured Weiss, for 12 yards on a key third-down pass to keep the drive alive.

Rifle’s defense continued to handle the bigger Palisade team. Josh Gomez, Thomas Archuleta and Jeff Zimmerman teamed up to stop Harris on a fake punt in the third quarter, and then in the fourth, Gomez drilled Kyle Britton for a loss of three on a fourth and one.

On the next play after the Gomez stop, Darrel Gorham got tricky. Carrion took a pitch right, stopped and fired a wobbly pass down field where Childress made a juggling catch between two defenders at the five and trotted in for the score to give the Bears a 28-6 lead.

Both teams scored late TDs to end the scoring.

Rifle would stop the Bulldogs on four fourth downs in the game, including a big stop by Long, Carrion and Casie Dunlap on a reverse by the Bulldogs.

Palisade came into the game with some daunting numbers, averaging more than 40 points and 330 yards offense a game, and having one of the most potent running games in the state. Rifle limited the Bulldogs to just 172 yards rushing. Britton and Green are both among the state leaders in rushing, but the Bears defense held them in check throughout. Green ended with 85 yards on 16 carries and Britton had only 35 yards on 11 carries.

The Bears used four runners to rack up 164 yards. The balanced attack included 39 runs and 22 passes. Childress had 66 yards on just six carries while Carrion had a tough-earned 57 yards on 12 carries. The passing game generated 184 yards.

Carrion gave much of the team’s offensive credit to the play of the offensive line.

“Our line was amazing. We knew we had to step up and play physical and that’s what we did,” he said.

Sanderson agreed that the line was the key. “Our offensive line never gets enough credit, they did a great job tonight,” said Sanderson, who was not sacked in the game.

Sanderson also said that they wanted to take advantage of Jewell’s height against the Palisade cornerbacks.

“He’s so good, I know that wherever I throw it that he’s going to catch it,” Sanderson said of his favorite target.

Junior tight end Zach LaCount also had a big game with five catches for 47 yards.

The stunning victory by the Bears was quite a contrast from the last time they played at home. The 13-12 loss to Roaring Fork two weeks ago may have given many the impression that the smaller, inexperienced 2003 Bears may be in for a long season. But Friday night, the Bears came out aggressive and fundamentally sound against the powerful Bulldogs.

Next up for Rifle is a league game at Delta on Friday, Sept. 26.

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