Used to underdog status, Rifle is favorite in 3A title game
RIFLE — Embracing the role of the favorite is something Rifle High School’s football team could now do very easily.
The Bears have been ranked No. 1 in the Class 3A media polls for much of the season.
They have the best running back in the classification, are tied with Class 5A Valor Christian as Colorado’s top-scoring offense among 11-man football teams and have a defense that has given up the fewest points (75) among all teams in Colorado.
So it would be easy for Rifle to start bragging about its accomplishments. Just don’t tell that to Damon Wells.
“The role we’re most comfortable with is the role of the underdog,” the Rifle coach said. “Frankly, I think when a Western Slope (Conference) team plays in the finals, they might not be the underdog based on record or ranking, but schools on the Front Range get more publicity than we do.
“Our league’s track record for success speaks for itself. Anybody that doesn’t recognize what kind of a program we are and what kind of a league we play in, frankly, just isn’t paying attention.”
On the other end of the spectrum is Silver Creek, which reached the Class 3A state title game a year ago. The Raptors returned only five starters from their 2011 team, opening the door to their argument to embrace the underdog role.
Both teams will have a chance to display just how good they are on Saturday when the Bears (13-0) take on the Raptors (11-2) for the 3A state championship. Kickoff is at 1 p.m. at Legacy Stadium in Aurora.
Silver Creek is looking forward to the chance.
“Not a lot of people expected much out of this group,” Silver Creek coach Mike Apodaca said. “The nice thing is that despite that, everyone has a ‘let’s get to work’ attitude before this game.”
Rifle returned plenty of talent from its 2011 team, which lost to eventual state champion Windsor in last year’s quarterfinals.
One of the key returnees is running back Ryan Moeller, whose 2,857 rushing yards and 41 rushing touchdowns leads the classification, and his rushing yardage ranks 12th in the nation, according to MaxPreps.com.
To complement Moeller, however, junior Kellin Leigh has rushed for 1,057 yards and sophomore Isaac Rider has 451 yards on the ground, helping the Bears average 365.2 rushing yards per game.
And the Bears have shown the ability to throw the ball, as quarterback Adam Rice is 37 for 65 passing (57 percent) for 794 yards and 11 touchdowns with only three interceptions. His biggest game of the season came in Rifle’s 48-34 quarterfinal win against Roosevelt, when he completed 7 of 8 passes for 201 yards and two scores.
“There’s a lot of attention that goes to the Moeller kid, but they’re definitely not a one-trick pony,” Apodaca said.
Neither is Silver Creek, which limited Conifer to 91 yards of total offense in the Raptors’ 24-7 semifinal win. Silver Creek inside linebacker Andre Apodaca (6-foot-1, 200 pounds) headlines the defense and has a team-high 144 tackles this season.
It’s a defense that doesn’t have anyone who also plays on offense, helping it force 35 turnovers and average two sacks per game.
Meanwhile, quarterback Ben Sjobakken is 177 of 286 passing (61 percent) with 24 touchdowns and two interceptions.
Zane Lindsey (49 catches), Trey Fleming (57), Eric Machmueller (33) and Brock Ricks (40) have all seen their fair share of balls thrown their way. Sjobakken threw for 154 yards and a touchdown against Conifer.
Rifle, even though it has seven players who start both ways, has only allowed that state-low 75 points to its 13 opponents and scores an average of 44.5 points per game.
Inside linebacker Cody Beauford (5-9, 180) has a team-high 122 tackles, and the Bears recorded four of their 19 sacks this season in their 56-6 victory in the state semis. Moeller has eight interceptions on defense, which is also tops in 3A.
“Our coaches always talk about leaving a legacy,” Moeller said. “Every senior class leaves a legacy, weather it’s positive or not. That’s what our goal was from the beginning of our sophomore year was to leave a positive legacy here at Rifle.
“The seniors last year left a positive legacy, and we have been doing that and want to continue to do that.”
Wells, however, was more subdued after the win over Pueblo East as he looked ahead to Saturday’s title game.
“I just hope we don’t let anybody down,” he said.