Big plays win big games.
At least that was the case for the Moffat County High School football team against Rifle as the Bulldogs made three heart-stopping plays, including one that might make Colorado high school history, to earn a 21-7 victory.
"Good teams find a way to win," Moffat County coach Kip Hafey said. "We might not have played real well in all aspects of the game but we kept ourselves in it and pulled it out."
The Bulldogs were down 7-0 at half time in part because of four turnovers and one blown pass coverage that turned into a Rifle score.
"After the first half, the offense wasn't clicking so we decided to go out and see who could push harder -- our line or their's," Hafey said.
The second possession in the third quarter showcased what is starting to become the Bulldogs' forte -- bruising runs that challenge the other team's size and strength.
After starting the drive with an 11-yard pass to Kevin Loughran, the Bulldogs called 13 running plays to march down the field. Rifle stopped the Bulldogs on third-and-goal when linebacker Jesse Long tackled Cody Palmer in the backfield to make it fourth-and-goal at the 13-yard line. Hafey called timeout and went out to talk to his offense.
"I could see it in the kids' eyes that they were going to score," he said. "I called the play and when I went to the sidelines, I told the staff we were going to score a touchdown."
The series that had started with a pass and then had 13 consecutive runs, ended with a pass as the Bulldogs spread out the offense with five receivers, allowing Palmer to get in front of his defender and make a leaping catch of an Aaron Sanchez pass for the score. With 1:20 left in the third quarter, the game was tied at seven.
The Bulldog defense stopped Rifle on its next possession as the fourth quarter began.
The fifth turnover by the Bulldogs came on a fumble at their 47-yard line with 10:50 left in the game. The Bears carried the ball to the 35 in two plays and Hafey told defensive coordinator Lance Scranton to go talk to his squad.
"I told him they needed to realize this drive was the difference in the game," he said. "So he called timeout and gave them a gut check."
It was third and one for the Bears on the Bulldogs' 25 yard line when senior linebacker Shea Carr intercepted a Kyle Sanderson pass and ran it back 76 yards for a touchdown and a 14-7 lead after the extra point.
The next series for the Bears was stopped short again when Derek Duran picked off another Sanderson pass with 7:07 remaining on Rifle's 37-yard line. The Bulldogs were unable to convert on offense as Brad Hurd missed a 30-yard field goal with 3:08 left in the game.
Rifle took over on the Bulldogs' 20 with a little more than three minutes to go 80 yards. The Bears converted on three consecutive third down plays with the final conversion coming on a 40-yard pass from Sanderson to J.R. Childress that put the Bears on the Moffat five-yard line with 1:24 left.
After one running play went nowhere, Sanderson went to the air again but linebacker Scott Garoutte picked the pass off in the end zone and ran it back 102 yards for the game-sealing, crowd-pleasing touchdown.
"The big pass play they made before was my guy that I screwed up on," Garoutte said. "I knew I had to do something and when I caught the ball all I could think about was to hold onto it and then I realized I had an open field. The last 20 yards it felt like I had a heart attack or something."
The 178 yards from Garoutte and Carr's interceptions were more than the Bulldogs' offense had in the air for the game.
"There's no doubt the defense had an outstanding game," Hafey said. "If I would have known we were going to have six turnovers, I would have said we would lose by 30 but they kept us in it and won it for us."
Hafey and his staff are looking into Garoutte's interception as a possible state record in return yardage.
Rifle coach Darrel Gorham thought his team turned in a pretty good defensive performance as well.
"Our defense had a pretty good night," he said. "It was our offense that stunk it up and that's my fault for not having us prepared."
The loss was only the second for the Bears in six years of Western Slope Conference play and puts them at 4-2 overall and 2-1 in the conference.
"(Moffat County) is a hard place to play, especially on homecoming," Gorham said. "Moffat County has the team to win the league."
The second half gave the Bulldog defense the confidence that it can help the team win the league.
"We know we have four tough games left and we have to take it one at a time," senior defensive end Nick Goodenow said. "But the win against Rifle takes away some of the doubts we had going into the game about our ability."
Next for the 5-1, 3-0, Bulldogs is Delta on the road Friday.