Palisade, Rifle lead race for 3A Western Slope Conference title
How tough is the Class 3A Western Slope Conference?
Darkhorses, it seems, have a shot at becoming state champions.
Last season, Palisade was third in the conference, then hit the playoffs and finished in the final four at state, losing to Silver Creek 55-37 in the semifinals.
Look for the conference champion, along with perhaps two other teams, to garner enough “power points” to qualify for the state playoffs again.
That said, Rifle appears to be the WSC favorite, returning 14 starters to a team that went undefeated in the conference. That includes running back Ryan Moeller, who led Colorado in all classifications in rushing yards with 2,469.
“He’s a special one,” Eagle Valley coach John Ramunno said.
Ramunno also touted Palisade senior quarterback Luke McLean.
“I really like him. I saw him at a 7-on-7 football passing camp, and he seems like such a leader,” Ramunno said. “He killed us last year with bootleg stuff. It takes five guys to tackle him. He’s a block.”
Moffat County also has a strong quarterback, Bubba Ivers, who impressed Ramunno.
“It’s pretty rare you get a three-year starter at quarterback,” Ramunno said of Ivers. “I think he’s so versatile; he can throw and run — he runs the option well. I think that guy’s a good leader, too, for the Bulldogs.”
Another reason this conference could have a strong showing at state lies in the classification movements.
For one, the defending Class 3A state champion has moved on. Windsor defeated Rifle 36-15 in the state quarterfinals and went on to defeat Silver Creek 14-7 in the state championship.
Windsor is now in the Class 4A Northern Conference (and has a roster of 100 players listed on MaxPreps.com).
“And with so many of those Colorado Springs teams moving up, seems like eight of the top 10 teams from last year moved up to 4A,” Delta coach Ben Johnson said. “Only three stayed down, including Palisade and Rifle. Our league being as strong as it is, we should be very good in the playoffs.”
And there is respect within the conference.
Palisade coach John Arledge likes Rifle and Glenwood Springs — along with the Bulldogs, of course — to challenge for a conference championship.
“Damon (Wells) does a fine job preparing (Rifle),” Arledge said, “and us against them. As far as respect, I have the most respect for them. When you play them, you better be on your ‘A’ game. And I hope they feel the same as us.”
It seems they do.
“Palisade and Glenwood are always tough,” Wells said. ” Our league is very difficult from top to bottom.”
Rifle defeated Palisade 36-33 last season.
In the same matchup the prior four seasons, however, Palisade won all four by a combined score of 135-13.
Yet a new season unfolds, and Moffat County coach Kip Hafey thinks his own team, along with Palisade, Rifle and Glenwood Springs, will challenge for the playoffs.
And what of Delta, which returns lots of tall, skilled kids?
“Those kids always play hard,” Hafey said. “If you don’t show up to play Delta, they will beat you. They’ll make a run at the playoffs.”