It wasn't the ending the Bulldog football team was hoping for, but nonetheless, it is still alive to see another week.
Coming out hard against the Rifle Bears Friday night, the Bulldogs looked and played like they were physically and emotionally drained from the past three weeks, coach Kip Hafey said after the game.
"I'm still proud of them, and the effort they've had the last four weeks," Hafey said.
The electricity was there during the opening minutes of the game for Moffat County. After punting away on their first possession, the Bulldogs recovered a fumble by Rifle's Tyler Thompson and set Moffat County up in Rifle territory.
The three-play drive took 41 seconds and gave the Bulldogs a 7-0 lead.
It didn't take long for Rifle to fire back. Scoring with 4:45 left on the clock. The nine play drive began on Rifle's own 16-yard line. But three big carries by Thompson and Colby McFarlin gave the Bears the tying score. Thompson carried the ball during the drive four times for 36-yards. While McFarlin had two carries for 32 yards.
The Bulldogs had a short four play drive that amounted to 3 yards, but they would not be pulled down.
They held the Bears on their next possession as time expired in the quarter.
"I think in this game the more we had the ball the better," senior Klein Nielson said.
The Bears opened up the second quarter scoring after two plays on an 11-yard run by Thompson.
"Our offensive line opened up a lot of hole tonight," Thompson said. "Everyone just played really hard."
Their next possession entailed another nine-play drive that ended on a 26-yard touchdown by Colby McFarlin. It gave Rifle a 21-14 lead that they would not relinquish.
But the Bulldogs answered just as quickly, ticking 3:49 off the clock, with an 11-play drive that ended on a Haddan touchdown. Quarterback Andrew Drake was rushed on the play, but Haddan was there with his hands wide open for the pass, and a spin move to cross the goal line.
Only down by one score, the Bulldogs began to build momentum.
"I have to really hand it to the kids," Hafey said. "Because for all intensive purposes, everyone counted us out, they said we were done. They said we wouldn't make the playoffs and the kids refused to believe that."
The Bulldogs had the Bears held on third and nine, but Rifle senior Nick Alderson turned on the speed and blew by Moffat County defenders to pick up the first down and more, with a 48-yard run. It was Alderson who did it again, on third and long, giving Rifle a first down, plus two, which set the Bears up in field goal range.
As the ball sailed through the uprights on Ryan McIntosh's attempt, the Bears went into halftime up 24-14.
Coming out of the locker room after halftime you could see the fire in the Bulldogs, but what you didn't see was senior J.T. Haddan on the field. An injury that occurred in the first quarter left Haddan sidelined for the rest of the game and left the Bulldogs with some big shoes to fill.
"The kids knew they had to step it up and they gave it everything they had," Hafey said. "J.T. is part of our power running game, and we don't have another big back. We have other good back who can run, but they can't block like him, just because of their size.
Hafey said the injury happened in the first quarter, but Haddan played through it.
"He's got a lot of guts," Hafey said.
On the opening drive for Rifle, the Bears again aggressively attacked the Bulldogs defender third touchdown of the night for Thompson, and the so-called nail in the coffin for the Bulldogs.
"We try to build our whole season around the playoffs," Wells explained. "You know league championships are great, you get a real nice t-shirt, but having played in December before, that's what we like to chase."
Hafey said there wasn't an ounce of give-up in his team, but that there were a lot of missed assignments on defense, which led to Rifle picking the line apart.
"We had a lot of missed tackles tonight," Hafey said. "We had guys at the points of attack, but they didn't wrap up.
The Bulldogs caught a lucky break with 5:11 left in the third. Nielson jumped on a loose ball in Rifle territory, setting Moffat County up at the Bears 47-yard line.
"That was a big momentum shift," Nielson said.
The drive took the Bulldogs down to the 7-yard line, but a return favor, a fumble by junior Paul Nelson, gave the Bears the ball back.
"We were still in a third and long situation, going for the reverse," Hafey said. "They just had too much pressure, too quick."
When time expired on the clock, you could see the sidelines where the Moffat County coaches were fired up and trying to prime themselves for a comeback.
It didn't take long for Rifle to deflate the Bulldogs fourth quarter psudeo-rally. Opening up by scoring with 9:49 left on the clock. A 27-yard pass completion to senior Cody Boe, left the Bulldogs in a big hole, down 38-14.
The Bulldogs' defense remained on the field much of the quarter and rallied together to hold the Bears on 3-3 and force them to punt, with 3:43 left on the clock.
"We made good drives, we just couldn't finish off," Hafey said.
The loss wasn't a finale to a season that many said was impossible. The Bulldogs are now in the playoffs, with Steamboat rolling over Battle Mountain 39-12.
There is new life and a new purpose for Moffat County heading into playoffs next week against Summit.
"The loss stinks, but we're in the playoffs now and we've got a shot to make a run at the title," Hafey said.
Nielson said the team is disappointed with the loss, but just as they have in weeks past, they will keep getting better, and they are excited for the playoffs.
Rifle will host next week, with the No. 2 seed and the Bears are taking things one day at a time.
"We know that once you get in, you better take it one day at a time," Wells said.
Thompson added that the Bears are happy to be at home, but "anything can happen in the playoffs."
Melanie McDaniels can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 211, or firstname.lastname@example.org.