Defense helps Bears keep momentum
PUEBLO — So much for Saturday’s Class 3A state semifinal between the Rifle and Pueblo East High School football teams being a close game.
The Bears’ defense made sure that didn’t happen.
They did it the same way they did in their quarterfinal victory against Roosevelt the previous week. Rifle’s big defensive stops halted the momentum the Roughriders had built. This time, though, it was one big stop that kept the Eagles from building any momentum.
And that stop for the Bears kept the game’s momentum in their favor on their way to a 56-6 victory over Pueblo East. That initial momentum the Bears built lasted until the start of the second quarter, when the Eagles were on the verge of cutting a two-touchdown deficit in half.
It didn’t happen, though, as Rifle’s defense, just like it had late in its quarterfinal-round victory against Roosevelt, got a big stop when it needed to.
“We got all of the intensity up that we needed to at just the right time,” Rifle senior linebacker Cody Beauford said. “Getting that stop was a big relief.”
Pueblo East trailed 14-0 after a 1-yard touchdown run from Ryan Moeller with 2 minutes, 37 seconds remaining. A 56-yard run from Derion Ibarra followed by a 14-yard pass from Kurt Rode to Felix Mestas to put the Eagles on Rifle’s 14.
Ibarra got Pueblo East to the Bears 7 before the first quarter ended. Moeller, however, came up big on the first play of the second quarter when the Rifle safety stripped the ball from the Pueblo East running back at the 2. Rifle defensive back Bailey Hoffmeister pounced on it in the end zone for a touchback to end the scoring threat.
“They kept moving the ball 5 yards, 5 yards and 10 yards at a time,” Hoffmeister said. “But we didn’t let up at the end, and I’m just glad I was in just the right spot to recover the fumble.”
Rifle’s offense took advantage. On the Bears’ first play after the recovered fumble, quarterback Adam Rice faked a pair of handoffs, and after Pueblo East’s front line bit on the fakes, threw to a wide-open Kellin Leigh for an 80-yard touchdown pass.
Marco Gutierrez’ point after kick made it 21-0 Rifle when, just minutes beforehand, the Eagles were on the verge of cutting their deficit to 14-7.
“Football is a game of momentum and that definitely did take a little steam out of us,” Pueblo East coach David Ramirez said. “It’s one of those things. You face adversity in the course of a game and you need to be able to bounce back from it. Unfortunately, they capitalized on it better than we bounced back from it.”
Rifle, as it turned out, built on its momentum, taking a 35-0 halftime lead before finishing the game with a 50-point victory.
“We’ll take the time to celebrate this for right now,” Leigh said. “But we also have to come back and look at the game film and learn from it so we can be prepared for next week.”