Rifle’s running game leads Bears into title game
Take away Ryan Moeller and his 2,857 yards and 41 touchdowns, and what’s left?
Behind that disciplined, precise offensive line often is junior running back Kellen Leigh.
In the first seven plays of the Bears’ 56-6 semifinal win over Pueblo East last week, Leigh scored on a 74-yard touchdown run and an 80-yard pass reception.
Then, if that weren’t enough to distract Eagles defenders from Moeller, he added a 5-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
The senior, Moeller.
The junior, Leigh.
And the sophomore, Isaac Rider.
He’s another running back who has shown the ability to stretch corners and juke would-be tacklers. Rider had an 82-yard touchdown run in the Bears’ 48-34 quarterfinal win over Roosevelt.
Moeller tends to dice inside; Leigh and Rider are wing backs who dash outside.
Enjoy them all, No. 10 Silver Creek (11-2), which plays No. 1 Rifle (13-0) at 1 p.m. today for the Class 3A state championship at Legacy Stadium in Aurora.
“I remember coming from middle to high school when I started playing my sophomore year,” said Moeller, comparing himself to Rider. “He’s a lot faster, stronger and quicker than I was.”
For Rifle coach Damon Wells, the options allow him to shift and attack a defense in any direction, any manner, any time.
And there’s no animosity when it comes to playing time among the Bears’ trio, Rifle coach Damon Wells said.
“When Kellen is scoring, Ryan is sprinting down the field celebrating like a little kid who might not get into the game,” Wells said.
In this Rifle offense that averages 365 rushing yards per game, greed is a sin indeed. The Bears run too many play-action passes, too many run fakes — even on running plays — for selfishness to thrive.
“If you’re not all in,” Wells said, “it doesn’t work.”
Rifle’s inside plays typically go to Moeller, who earlier this week spoke with Colorado State University coach Jim McElwain at Rifle High School. Moeller has 11.2-second 100-dash speed and standout triple-jumping ability he flashed in track and field last spring.
He’s hurdled safeties. He takes handoffs and at the sight of a diving tackler, flutters — at 200 pounds — dancing a two-step and running free. He has a feel for his blockers, downfield vision and strength to backpack linebackers.
How does that compare to Leigh?
“Ryan, first of all, is a year older,” Wells said. “But Kellen has a way better beard.”
Leigh’s skills are relatively hidden, if only behind his Bunyan beard.
But the name “Moeller” is what likely hits opposing coaches’ ears like a coal train.
“People can think what they want,” Wells said. “With Kellen Leigh running wild, they can think as much as they want that we’re a one-man show.”
Delta coach Ben Johnson knows better. During the regular season the Panthers gave Rifle its best game, losing 21-0. Johnson said Pueblo East made the mistake of playing a 6-2 defense, overloading the middle on Moeller. Leigh ran a sweep 74 yards for a score on the first play.
“I think when you play them you’ve got to stay really balanced,” Johnson said. “If you overload the middle to stop Moeller, they’ll kill you with that buck sweep with those two wings they have. If you overload the outside, they’ll kill you with Moeller.”
And then, once sucked into the Bears’ devastating run game, quarterback Adam Rice, who has only 19 rushing attempts for 36 yards, brings the Bears’ super move — a efficient pass, usually over the head of sucked-in safeties and cornerbacks.
About one out of every six passes Rice has thrown this season has been for a touchdown. He’s completed 37 of 65 passes for 11 touchdowns and two interceptions.
“Everybody has the same story,” Moffat County coach Kip Hafey said. “When we played Rifle, we thought we played a pretty good game. And we gave up 45 points. I don’t even know if we scored that game (the Bulldogs didn’t, losing 45-0).
“You might hold them one or two series and then, boom, they’re on an 80-yard run.”
Three Bears receivers, Leigh, Aaron Wagler and Moeller, have more than 200 yards receiving.
Which way will you attack when defending the Bears?
Don’t get carried away, Wells asks.
“We’re still talking about 15-, 16-year-old boys,” Wells said. “So you have kids who cannot drive a car and their bedrooms are a mess, and expect them to be flawless on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons.”