Another Rifle runaway
Leigh, Moeller find success on the ground to advance to 3A state championship game
PUEBLO — Pueblo East High School’s football team left some early opportunities for Rifle Saturday afternoon.
Thanks to that, the Bears left no doubt on the outcome in the Class 3A semifinals.
Kellin Leigh scored three critical touchdowns early in the game and Ryan Moeller rushed for 207 yards and three scores, leading the top-ranked Bears to a 56-6 victory at Dutch Clark Stadium and a trip to the state title game.
“We knew that we had to get the job done and did the job as well as we could,” said Leigh, who finished with 186 yards of total offense. “We knew that we had to take advantage of the chances we had because they’ve got a great offense.”
Rifle, however, showed just how strong its offense was. The Bears (13-0) racked up 478 yards of total offense and 398 yards on the ground. Rifle did give up 298 yards to the Eagles (10-3), but 80 came on a touchdown strike from Kurt Rode to Alex Mestas early in the third quarter after the Bears had gone up 42-0 to enact the running-clock rule.
“They’re a darn good football team,” Pueblo East coach David Ramirez said. “I thought they executed well. They played mistake-free football and that’s one of the things we always try to stress. They executed better than us this afternoon.”
With the win, Rifle advanced to the state championship game — its first since 2005 — to play Silver Creek, a 24-7 winner over Conifer in the day’s other semifinal. The game is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday at Legacy Stadium in Aurora.
Leigh finished with 106 rushing yards on seven carries, putting the Bears up 7-0 after a 74-yard sprint to the end zone on Rifle’s first offensive play from scrimmage. He also caught an 80-yard touchdown pass from Adam Rice early in the second quarter, and his 5-yard jaunt with 6 minutes, 24 seconds left before halftime gave the Bears a four-score cushion.
That turned out to be much more than was needed for the Bears, who preferred not to leave anything to chance with the potency of Pueblo East’s passing offense.
“We figured coming into the game that it would be a high-scoring game,” said Rifle quarterback Adam Rice, whose 80-yard TD pass to Leigh was his only completion — and pass — of the ballgame. “Our stance was that we didn’t want to leave them hanging around, so our goal on offense was to come out each time and score quickly and efficiently.”
The Eagles, who were making their first semifinal appearance in school history, weren’t able to get much going offensively aside from running back Derion Ibarra. He finished with 172 yards on 21 carries, including a 56-yard scamper which put the Eagles in striking distance early in the second quarter.
Pueblo East, however, was never able to get its passing game going. Rode, who had thrown for 2,491 yards and 24 touchdowns in the Eagles’ previous 12 games, was sacked four times, pressured throughout the game and finished completed 7 of 21 passing for 139 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
“We didn’t do anything tricky to stop them,” Rifle coach Damon Wells said. “I’m just really proud because of the way we executed on both sides of the football. That means a lot.”
Rifle executed from the beginning, as Pueblo East’s opening drive stalled at the Bears’ 40 after a 12-play march. Leigh scampered to the end zone on the next play to put Rifle up for good, and Moeller gave Rifle a 14-0 lead on his 1-yard TD run four minutes later.
Ibarra’s long run on the Eagles’ next drive, however, went for naught when he fumbled into the end zone five plays later. After Bailey Hoffmeister recovered the fumble for the Bears, Rice hit Leigh for the 80-yard strike, which put the Bears up 21-0 and gave them control of the game.
Rice put Rifle up 35-0 with his 9-yard run with 32 seconds left before halftime, and Moeller, who would later add a 43-yard jaunt, scored from 7 yards out to start the running clock.
“We’ve already forgotten about this win,” Rifle linebacker Cody Beauford said. “We’ve got one more game to get ready for.”