Rifle Moffat County High School’s football team is in the process of building its way back to respectability. The Rifle Bears on Friday showed the Bulldogs just how far they need to go.
Ty Leyba rushed for 211 yards and three touchdowns on six carries in the first half for the Bears, who had reached the running-clock mercy rule threshold by the end of the first quarter on their way to a 62-7 victory against the overmatched Bulldogs in front of a big opening-night crowd at Bears Stadium.
“Verbally, we can tell our kids what a quality team is all about, but they don’t really know about it until they go against a team like that at game speed,” first-year Moffat County coach Keith Gille said. “Hats off to the Rifle Bears, their coaching staff, their kids and their fans. They’re a class act all the way, and there’s a reason why they’re ranked where they are. We saw that tonight.”
In more ways than one.
The Bears (1-0), the three-time defending Class 3A Western Slope League champions who came into the season ranked fourth in The Associated Press 3A preseason poll, moved the ball at will on a Bulldogs team (0-1) that not only dropped down to Class 2A this season but has 27 freshmen on its roster. Rifle finished with 374 rushing yards 23 carries with seven ball carriers.
Leyba, a junior, popped off the biggest runs of the game for his team. He scored on touchdown jaunts of 57, 4 and 59 yards, with a 60-yard run thrown in that set up the last of Brock Clark’s two TD runs.
It again solidified the running-back-by-committee approach that Rifle uses as effective.
“This say that everyone has their own job, and, as long as we execute it, it’s going to work out pretty well for us,” Leyba said. “There’s more than one person that can do their job, and everyone did pretty well at doing their job tonight.”
Clark’s nine-yard TD run with 28 seconds remaining in the first quarter staked the Bears to a 41-0 lead following the point-after kick by Eduardo Sandoval, and it also started the running-clock mercy rule.
“I thought we got a little sloppy after the first quarter,” Rifle coach Damon Wells said. “We kind of got away from ourselves.
“Last year, we started the season with a couple of wins like this and then, in week three (against Glenwood Springs), it was a dogfight," Wells added. “We’ve been down this road so many times that we know how things can change in an instant.”
Moffat County kept fighting throughout the game despite the lopsided score, averting the shutout when quarterback Keenan Hildebrandt hit sophomore receiver Connor Scranton for an 11-yard TD pass with 3:47 remaining. It said a lot about the character of the team after a tumultuous summer that resulted in the dismissal of the Bulldogs’ previous coaching staff following an alleged hazing incident at a football camp in Wyoming.
“I’m proud of them,” Gille said. “Little did I know when I took the job that we had a zero-week game until I looked at the schedule. And then we have to come to Rifle. But what’s important now ... is that we go back, watch some film and learn from this.”
Rifle limited Moffat County to 31 rushing yards on 18 carries and 54 yards of total offense. The Bears also forced four turnovers and intercepted Hildebrandt twice.
Clark opened the scoring with a 29-yard TD at the 10:55 mark of the first quarter. Then after a three-and-out possession by the Bulldogs, Leyba broke free for his 57-yard TD run with 9:25 left in the stanza. The Bulldogs fumbled the ensuing kickoff and, two plays later, Brooks Pressler scored the first of his two touchdowns with 9:09 on the clock for a 20-0 Rifle lead.
Moffat County plays again next Friday against another 3A opponent in Steamboat Springs. Rifle goes to Moab, Utah, next Friday to play Grand County High School.