Rifle edges Palisade to earn share of WSC

Palisade’s Lane Orman runs the ball into the end zone for a touchdown Friday night during the first quarter of the Bulldogs’ 36-33 loss to Rifle at Stocker Stadium.

Rifle High School might be one of the smallest schools in Class 3A, but it is one of the best in football.

The Bears proved it again Friday night, clinching at least a share of the Western Slope Conference championship for the first time since 2002. Fifth-ranked Rifle defeated No. 7 Palisade 36-33 at Stocker Stadium.

“We knew it was going to be tough,” Rifle junior Ryan Moeller said. “We’re outnumbered by so many schools, it’s so much fun playing up. It shows what you’ve got.”

The Bears (9-0, 6-0 WSC) can win the conference title outright with a victory next week against Glenwood Springs and guarantee a first-round home playoff game.

“It’s exciting,” Moeller said. “We get to stick around longer and go to the playoffs.”

The Bulldogs (7-2, 4-2 WSC) are still in good position to make the playoffs, but will likely have to start on the road after closing out the regular season next Friday at Delta.

Moller and Brandon Kittle did a majority of the damage for Rifle, rushing for a combined 388 of the Bears’ 419 rushing yards. Kittle rushed for 243 yards and two touchdowns. Moeller rushed for 145 yards and one touchdown.

“It’s team speed,” Palisade coach John Arledge said. “They have it and we don’t. That’s why they’re 9-0.”

Rifle limited Palisade to 215 yards rushing, forcing the Bulldogs to throw 21 passes. Quarterback Luke McLean completed 10 of 19 passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns.

Palisade scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to rally from a 36-19 deficit to get within a field goal with 2:58 left.

After the Bulldogs’ defense forced Rifle to punt, Palisade took over on its own 49 with a little more than one minute left.

Rifle’s defense was ready, forcing an incompletion and sacking McLean on back-to-back plays. Rifle took over and ran out the clock.

Rifle didn’t take long to score its first touchdown when Moeller broke loose for a 97-yard run on the Bears’ first play from scrimmage for a 7-0 lead.

Palisade responded with a 11-play, 77-yard drive, resulting in a Lane Orman 24-yard reception from McLean for a touchdown. The Bulldogs converted on a fourth-and-2 on the drive.

Orman recovered a Rifle fumble on its next possession and turned it into a JT Townsend 8-yard run for a 13-7 lead.

Palisade’s lead didn’t last long.

Kittle scored on a 67-yard run on its first play from scrimmage for a 14-13 lead.

Rifle added another touchdown midway through the second quarter on Taylor Webb’s 30-yard run for a 21-13 lead.

Palisade had an opportunity to score on its final possession of the first half, but the Bears defense stuffed Palisade’s attack on the 2.

“We had our chances,” Arledge said. “If we score before the half, we would’ve won.”

Orman intercepted Rifle’s Adam Rice on the Bears first possession of the second half, setting up McLean’s 3-yard touchdown run. The Bulldogs’ attempt to tie it on a 2-point conversion failed. Rifle led 21-19.

The Bears answered with another long run. This time Kittle broke loose to his left and ran 61 yards for a score and a 28-19 lead.

Early in the fourth quarter, Rifle faced a fourth-and-goal on Palisade’s 6. Rice barely avoided a sack and got a pass away. It was tipped before Webb pulled it on for a touchdown. Kittle ran in a 2-point conversion for a 36-19 lead.

Palisade rallied and faced a fourth-and-goal at Rifle’s 6. McLean completed a pass to Townsend for a touchdown with 8:15 left.

The Bulldogs got the ball back with 6:15 left and moved it into scoring territory again. This time, Moeller tipped a pass by Orman pass before Caden Woods pulled the ball in for a 15-yard touchdown. Rifle led 36-33.

“I got too greedy,” Moeller said. “That interception, I was butterfingers. I could’ve knocked it down.”


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