Bulldog football downs Rifle in 1st win over Bears in a decade
For the Craig Press
RIFLE — When Moffat County High School football started 2A West League play, they did so with a victory over a team they hadn’t beaten since 2015.
But, they were by no means done breaking cold streaks.
MCHS went to 2-0 in the conference Friday night with a 46-13 rout of the Rifle Bears, a team the crew in blue and white have not defeated since a 2010 overtime win at the Bulldog Proving Grounds.
The undefeated Dogs, now 6-0, were also playing in their fourth straight Homecoming game — the first being their own — having spoiled the occasion for Kennedy and Basalt before laying a beatdown on the Bears. After a shortened spring season that saw them take the state title earlier this year, the Bears have had an unceremonious start to fall 2021, going 2-4 and winless in the league.
Apart from playing in different seasons last year, MCHS has regularly found Rifle a fearsome opponent, often falling by towering numbers to the Bears.
However, MCHS head coach Lance Scranton said there was a conscious effort among players not to be intimidated.
“We were trying to send a message that we’re not the same old Bulldogs,” Scranton said. “The kids played well.”
Finding their feet
As opposed to last week, when both MoCo and Rifle were playing in rainy conditions — in Basalt and Aspen, respectively — the precipitation leading up to the match suddenly stopped about an hour before kickoff.
However, the Rifle field was no less slick, making for a few early plays that looked straight out of a Three Stooges short, as rush attempts on both sides saw players’ feet go flying out from under them.
Still, Bulldog backs Evan Atkin, Ethan Hafey and Taran Teeter got the ball and the clock moving with a good ground attack on their second drive, ending the first quarter scoreless but in premium position on the 1-yard line.
No sooner had the second frame started than MoCo quarterback Ryan Peck fought his way up the middle and bent over the goal line for the score. He followed that touchdown with the PAT, one of four times during the night he’d successfully split the uprights.
The Bears were forced to punt after a sack of Rifle quarterback Trey Caldwell and a near-interception by Moffat’s Johnny Lopez. Peck’s first pass of the evening went to Atkin for 33 yards to promptly get in Rifle territory, and Atkin picked up six points moments later on a 25-yard sweep as he tip-toed the sideline on the TD run, the first of five times he’d get to the end zone.
Atkin, the Dogs’ leading rusher, also earned exceptional receiving numbers for the night. Peck connected with him again on the next drive — after the Bulldogs shut down the Bears in the red zone — and Atkin shed several tackles as part of an 85-yard TD reception, the longest yet this season for the Dogs.
With 21-0 flashing from the scoreboard at halftime, things got worse before they got better for Rifle, as MoCo’s Carson Miller earned the first of two interceptions on the night shortly after the second-half kickoff.
Atkin ran it home twice more in quick succession — once from 11 yards out and another from 5 — to threaten a running clock at 33-0 midway through the third quarter.
The Rifle offense began to gain steam from there, with Caldwell connecting with Eduen Pena in the air, and Toto Fletchall breaking through the Moffat defense to get set up to score.
Caldwell faked a handoff and ran it in himself for a 5-yard TD to deny the Dogs the shutout, but the Bears’ attempt at an onside kick backfired, as MoCo’s Austin Behrman grabbed the ball hot off the bounce and bolted all the way to Rifle’s 15-yard line.
Though Behrman rarely touches the pigskin as a lineman, he said he was happy to contribute however needed.
“I think we all worked really good as a team tonight,” he said.
Atkin scored for the final time that night on a 6-yard jaunt that ended with him hopping over the goal line just before the fourth quarter began.
After the second pickoff claimed by Miller, Peck targeted Logan Hafey and Myles Simpson to maneuver down the field before sending it to Ethan Hafey for the 11-yard TD, after which Rifle caught a consolation prize with a deflection of the extra point.
The Bears picked up back-to-back interceptions — shortly after a Rifle fumble forced by Ethan Hafey and recovered by Behrman — and got their score up to double digits with a highly contested catch in the end zone by Peyton Prettyman with about 90 seconds remaining on the clock. MCHS returned the favor by blocking the PAT.
Though Rifle had one more shot at Homecoming glory after a successful onside kick, the game ended with Logan and Ian Hafey sharing credit for a sack by smothering Caldwell like country gravy.
First-year Rifle head coach Ryan Whittington said he appreciated the effort late in the night.
“By then, it was already out of reach, but our kids are gonna fight and battle. Just not enough tonight,” he said. “We have so many little things we need to correct, it’s not even funny. We’re gonna keep grinding and get better.”
Back in blue
Rifle could take some solace in being the highest-scoring losing team of the league Friday night; while Basalt rebounded from its loss to Moffat County with a 48-12 defeat of Coal Ridge, the biggest deficit was in Aspen as the Skiers were pummeled 56-0 by Delta.
The coming week sees Rifle host Coal Ridge and Basalt take its shot at Delta, while Bulldog football is back home after three consecutive road games, facing off against Aspen, who stands at 2-4 overall and 1-1 in the 2A West.
MCHS remains the only undefeated team of the bunch, and that brings with it both pressure and pride, said Alex Musgrave.
“It’s a weird feeling, but it feels good,” the Bulldog senior said of the team’s ongoing hot streak. “It brings a lot of pride to our school. We had something to prove tonight and we did it.”
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