Defensive challenge

Rifle must slow down Pueblo East's passing game in 3A semi

Rifle’s defense was tested last weekend in a victory over Roosevelt, which scored nearly as many points in one game as the Bears had allowed all season. Rifle will need to slow down Pueblo East’s high-powered passing attack Saturday in the Class 3A state semifinals.

Rifle quarterback Adam Rice normally is seen handing off the ball to star running back Ryan Moeller, but Rice can throw the ball as well.

Coach Damon Wells and the Rifle Bears face a high-powered Pueblo East offense, which is led by the passing attack,  Saturday in the Class 3A state semifinals.


Class 3A Semifinals

No. 1 Rifle (12-0) at No. 5 Pueblo East (10-2)

1 p.m. Saturday, Dutch Clark Stadium, Pueblo

The coaches

Rifle: Damon Wells. Pueblo East: David Ramirez.

Last week

Rifle defeated Roosevelt 48-34, with Ryan Moeller’s 91-yard interception return as time expired clinching the quarterfinal victory. The Bears allowed nearly as many points, 34, in the game as they have all season, 35. Pueblo East defeated Delta 35-24 as Kurt Rode threw for 240 yards passing and three TDs.

About the Rifle Bears

■ Rifle has won 12 straight games and is trying to return to the state championship game for the first time since 2005. The Bears won the Class 3A title in 2004 with a 7-6 thriller over Sterling, then fell to Florence 35-14 in 2005.

■ It’s not all about Ryan Moeller, but the senior running back can — and will — make big plays at any time. He’s rushed for 2,652 yards and 38 touchdowns and scored three touchdowns on five receptions this season. He scored six of Rifle’s seven touchdowns last week, three rushing, two receiving and the clinching interception return as time expired. He had 425 all-purpose yards.

■ Quarterback Adam Rice has his share of big plays, throwing for 714 yards and 10 touchdowns. He’s completed 36 of 64 passes with three interceptions. He has three rushing touchdowns on 18 carries.

■ Aaron Wagler is Rice’s top receiver, with 19 catches for 271 yards and four touchdowns.

About the Pueblo East Eagles

■ Pueblo East is on a five-game winning streak, outscoring its opponents by an average of 48-20 in that span.

■ East quarterback Kurt Rode, a 5-foot-11 junior, has completed 154 of 244 passes (63 percent) for 2,491 yards and 24 touchdowns. He’s been intercepted eight times and has a long pass of 94 yards.

■ In back-to-back games this season, Rode threw for 307 yards. He was 19 for 28 with three TD passes in a 37-33 loss to The Classical Academy, the Eagles’ last loss. The next week, in a 53-30 win over Pueblo County, Rode completed 17 of 28 passes for 307 yards and five touchdowns.

■ Derion Ibarra, a 5-10 senior running back, has rushed for 1,312 yards and 16 touchdowns. Rode has rushed for 236 yards and seven TDs.

■ Felix Mestas has caught 41 passes for 886 yards and 12 touchdowns. Four other receivers have been TD targets, including Ibarra with four.

Coach Wells says

On reaching the state semifinals: “We know Saturday’s game is going to be tough, but that doesn’t surprise us and we wouldn’t want to be in any other position. We’re still happy getting to work and spend time together and to have this opportunity.”

Coach Ramirez says

On his team’s playoff run, the most successful in school history: “The desire to do better has always been there, and it’s helped that that desire has raised expectations across the board. I think deep, deep down we always wanted to get to this point and knew we could.”

RIFLE — Roosevelt High School’s football team did something to the Rifle Bears that no other team had done much of this season.

The Roughriders threw the ball, and they threw it effectively last Saturday in the fourth quarter of the Bears’ 48-34 victory in the Class 3A quarterfinals. And by virtue of that, along with a solid first-half running game, Roosevelt scored — a lot.

Roosevelt’s point total against the Bears was only one point shy of what Rifle had allowed to its previous 11 opponents combined. The 177 fourth-quarter passing yards the Roughriders amassed helped pull them within 42-34 with 45 seconds remaining before their final drive of the game was halted by a 91-yard interception return for a touchdown by Ryan Moeller.

So when the top-ranked Bears (12-0) head to the Class 3A semifinals at 1 p.m. Saturday to play fifth-seeded Pueblo East (10-2) at Dutch Clark Stadium, they’ll come up against an Eagles team that throws the ball — a lot.

That’s OK with Rifle coach Damon Wells, who said the script of the Bears’ victory over Roosevelt served as a wake-up call.

“To be honest with you, it’s probably the best thing that could have happened to us,” Wells said. “It’s been about three weeks to a month since we faced somebody who can really throw the football.

“Part of it was adversity, and part of it was scheme,” he continued. “You’re good at what you focus on. We haven’t had to focus on defending the pass the past couple of weeks, and Saturday it showed.”

Without a doubt, Rifle’s defense has focused more on pass defense as it prepared for Pueblo East.

The Eagles, who are making their first appearance in the 3A playoffs since 2008 and have reached the 3A semis for the first time in school history, average 208.3 passing yards per game.

Pueblo East also has four receivers who have caught at least 20 passes this year in Alex Mestas (20), Jimmy Valdez (31), Felix Mestas (41) and Joe DeTello (33).

Their quarterback, senior Kurt Rode, is 154 for 244 passing (63.1 percent) for 2,491 yards with 24 touchdown passes and eight interceptions. One of his biggest games of the year came Oct. 19 against Pueblo County, when he finished 17 of 28 passing for 307 yards and five touchdowns in a 53-30 victory.

“Our entire offense goes through him,” Pueblo East coach David Ramirez said. “He’s the general on the field, but he’s not a big ‘me’ guy. There’s been a lot of times this year when we’ve focused on the ground game and he hasn’t needed to pass, but he’s been there to make the big plays when we’ve needed him to.”

The Eagles have guys who can run the ball, too. Derion Ibarra has 1,312 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns this season, averaging a shade more than 119 yards a game on the ground. Two other players, Rode and senior Adrain Montour, have rushed for more than 220 yards.

Pueblo East, however, has given up yardage and points in chunks this year on defense. An example is the Eagles’ 37-33 loss to The Classical Academy on Oct. 11 when, in the fourth quarter, they allowed 21 points in two minutes. That plays into the offensive identity for Rifle, which has made scoring quickly a habit this season.

One reason for that is Moeller, who comes in as the classification’s leading rusher with 2,652 rushing yards and 38 touchdown runs this season. He finished with 425 all-purpose yards against Roosevelt, including a 95-yard touchdown reception and that 91-yard interception return for a touchdown as the game’s final horn sounded.

“Looking at him on film, he’s as good as advertised,” said Ramirez, who served as a volunteer assistant coach at Colorado State University-Pueblo last season. “It’ll be interesting to see him in person.”

Rifle, which averages 368 rushing yards a game, got a career-high 201 yards on 7-of-8 passing from senior quarterback Adam Rice against Roosevelt. In all, the Bears racked up 530 yards of total offense.

“We’re not afraid of (Pueblo East), but we definitely have a great respect for them,” Wells said. “Of course, you wouldn’t expect anything less at this point of the season.”


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