Rifle avoids letdown, beats Conifer in rain
RIFLE — According to Rifle High School football coach Damon Wells, fans he spoke to this past week suggested his undefeated Bears, ranked No. 1 in Class 3A, were ripe for a letdown.
After a 31-3 win over then-No. 2-ranked Palisade last week, Wells did what he always does: He prepared his team for the next game.
To simulate the expected conditions for the game against sixth-ranked Conifer, he brought a water cooler to practice Thursday. Before every snap during a simulated game, the coaching staff dunked the ball into the water.
The unexpected practice tactic paid off, as Rifle’s football field turned into a swamp Friday night during the Bears’ 38-7 win over Conifer.
“I had everyone come up to me and offer their opinion on how we were going to have a letdown against Conifer,” Wells said. “We don’t think like that. We live on a seven-day schedule here. We live one week at a time. We’re only trying to make the playoffs, so we get to spend seven more days with each other.”
Maybe it was the cold and rainy conditions, but it took Rifle star running back Ryan Moeller longer than expected to warm up. The Bears’ centerpiece normally has burned opposing defenses early and often, averaging 259.7 yards rushing per game.
Moeller had 13 touches for 48 yards in the first half, and broke his first run of more than five yards with less than a minute remaining in the half. Back-to-back runs of eight and 19 yards by Moeller set up a touchdown pass by Adam Rice to Aaron Wagler two seconds before halftime.
Moeller finished the game with 20 carries for 67 yards but scored two touchdowns on short runs in the second half.
“Obviously it is tough to run our offense with puddles on the field,” Moeller said, “but everybody got it together and took advantage of what the defense gave us.”
Running back Kellin Leigh did his part with 10 rushes for 157 yards, including runs of 62 and 31 yards, plus a touchdown.
“We prepared for this team and these conditions the whole week,” Leigh said. “We knew it was going to be like this. I just kept my feet underneath me and did the best I could.”
Conifer’s early touchdown and subsequent point-after attempt were the most points any team has scored on Rifle this season. After the first-quarter score, the Lobos turned the ball over five times — four fumbles and an interception — and Rifle scored 31 unanswered points.
“I knew the way things were with Conifer it would be a tough matchup,” Wells said. “They were ranked No. 2 at the beginning of the season, and their only slipup was a seven-point loss. You can see their physicality on the tape. We just didn’t turn the ball over, besides a fumble late. They’re a quality football team, and we knew we had our hands full.”