Playing with heavy hearts, Rifle falls to Windsor in 3A playoffs
RIFLE — Rifle High School’s football team didn’t have much going in its favor entering Saturday’s Class 3A state playoff game against the Windsor Wizards.
Yet through their adversity, the Bears managed to make a game out of their quarterfinal-round loss at a snow-soaked Bears Stadium.
Playing with heavy hearts and a primary tailback who wasn’t 100 percent healthy, Rifle hung with the larger Wizards before Windsor pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 36-15 victory.
“This is a pretty great group of boys,” Rifle coach Damon Wells said. “The pain from earlier this week and some other things today made this effort very admirable.”
Rifle tailback Ryan Moeller, who had rushed for 2,378 yards and 18 touchdowns prior to Saturday’s game, sat out the second and third quarter nursing a tender right hamstring.
The Bears were playing only a few days after junior center Jake Whaley’s mother, Stacey, passed away suddenly.
Though Whaley still played on Saturday, Rifle’s offense was limited to 136 rushing yards after averaging 375 yards a game all season.
There was a moment of silence before the game in honor of Whaley’s mother, with each of Rifle’s players holding hands on the sideline.
“For Jake Whaley to do today what he did I think speaks volumes of any human, not to mention a junior in high school,” Wells said.
Windsor ran twice as many plays (34) as the Bears in the first half before breaking away in the fourth quarter with three touchdowns in a five-minute span.
Windsor (11-1) plays Frederick, the last seed in the 16-team playoff bracket, on Saturday for a trip to the Dec. 3 state title game. The Bears ended their season at 11-1.
“Right now, I’m happy for what we’ve done this season,” said Moeller, who finished with 84 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries and was questionable to play prior to the game
“But I can’t help but think right now what else we could have done if I was out there more and healthier.”
Freshman Kamal Johnson filled in for Moeller and finished with 36 yards on nine carries, but Windsor’s offense, specifically its front line, controlled the game. The Wizards took control at the beginning of the fourth quarter, turning a 12-8 lead at the start of the quarter into a 36-8 cushion with 6 minutes, 18 seconds remaining.
“The previous disappointments always came because we were short players,” said Windsor coach Chris Jones, whose team had been eliminated in the quarterfinals the previous three seasons. “The first year we were missing three starters, the next year we were missing six and last year we were missing four. We didn’t have that problem this year.
“The moral of the story is we get to spend another week with the kids. The game is great, it’s passionate and there’s a lot of love, but we get five more three-hour practices to lead to a three-hour game. That’s what we wanted.”
Moeller didn’t look hurt early on.
His 67-yard run set up his 3-yard plunge to put Rifle up 8-6 after Taylor Webb’s conversion run with 5:07 left in the first. Windsor answered, though, going up 12-8 on Aaron Schmidt’s 13-yard scamper in the second quarter.
Windsor extended its lead to 20-8 on a 10-yard TD run by Aaron Schmidt with 9:07 left in the fourth quarter. The Wizards forced a three-and-out and, on their next play from scrimmage, looked like they had a 45-yard scoring jaunt from Schmidt.
Webb stripped the ball from Schmidt at the goal line and forced what looked like a touchback when the ball went out of the back of the end zone.
A facemask penalty on Rifle, however, negated the touchback and gave the ball back to Windsor on Rifle’s 14. Wil Dressor ran it in on the next snap and, after a Lance Cox interception of Rifle QB Adam Rice, Joe Sanger scampered into the end zone from 25 yards out for the game-clinching score.
“I think the big part of this season was how well we all came together, especially at the end,” Moeller said. “I don’t think you’ll ever find a team that bought in was well as we did this season, and especially this week.”