The top team has been toppled.
The third meeting between Rifle and the Moffat County High School Bulldogs was a charm for the visiting Bears, as they escaped MCHS with a 69-61 overtime victory last night in the Sweet 16 4A state championship.
With the loss, the Bulldogs are eliminated from the playoffs.
"We're proud of them and we love them," MCHS coach Craig Mortensen said. "We have to learn from this."
MCHS appeared to be headed to their second consecutive Elite 8 as they held a six-point lead, 56-50, with 80 seconds in regulation.
Rifle chipped away and junior Kendall Babler calmly sank two free throws to tie the game at 56 all with 14 seconds left.
The Bears went on to outscore the Bulldogs, 13-5, in the extra frame, and stun the home team and crowd.
The Bears' converted 22-of-28 from the charity stripe, compared to 2-of-4 for the hosts.
Mortensen attributed the free throw discrepancy to Rifle's game plan.
"Their style of play is to dribble-penetrate," he said. "We just didn't do what we needed to do to get it done, I guess."
Rifle took an 18-14 advantage into the second quarter, and the teams continued their back-and-forth battle as Cayla Maneotis brought the Bulldogs to within two at 18-16.
Junior Angela Charchalis drained her third 3-pointer of the night to put MCHS ahead, 19-18, and the momentum appeared to be in favor of Bulldogs.
Once again, the Bears responded to every ebb and flow the Sweet 16 4A state tournament game provided.
MCHS had two five-point leads at 27-22 and 31-26, and headed into the locker room with a 31-30 advantage.
The Bulldogs controlled the second-half tip, but turned the ball over before Rifle scored first to take a 32-31 lead.
Maneotis scored the Bulldogs' first hoop of the third quarter, giving her and her teammates the lead again at 33-32.
Mortensen called a timeout with 5:35 remaining and his squad trailing by a bucket at 35-33.
Rifle continued applying defensive pressure and jumped out to 40-39 advantage before Maneotis put the Bulldogs back on top, 41-40.
Charchalis, who led all scorers with 28 points, put on a 3-point clinic with her seven-of-eight performance from behind the arc.
"We've had a target on our back the whole year because of our ranking," she said. "There has just been a lot of hype. We tried our hardest. They are a good team, and just played better tonight."
Charchalis began the fourth quarter with a three-pointer, giving MCHS a 46-45 edge after ending the third quarter down by two at 45-43.
Junior Desirae Pearcey atoned for a personal foul by tallying a quick two, and Mortensen called a timeout with 5:02 remaining in regulation and his team ahead 50-45.
While disappointed in seeing his team's season come to an end, Mortensen also was gracious in defeat and commended Rifle for its play.
"Rifle played well and did a lot of really good things," he said. "They are very intense."
The veteran coach seemed to take the loss in stride.
"Sometimes it just doesn't work out the way you want it to," Mortensen said. "That's the game of competition and athletics, and it happens sometimes."
Rifle 18 12 15 11 13 -- 69 Moffat County 14 17 12 13 5 -- 61 Rifle --Babler 13, Webb 4, Bowen 1, Guettler 17, McWilliams 21, Blackwell 4, Skinner 9. Moffat County --harchalis 28, Mann 4, Raftopoulos 4, Workman 5, Pearcey 4, C. Maneotis 18. 3-point goals --abler 1, Guettler 1, McWilliams 2, Skinner 3, Charchalis 7.