Bulldog pride: Moffat County football has rip-roaring final game with Rifle
For one team the final seconds of Friday night’s game at the Moffat County High School Bulldog Proving Grounds was filled with nervous anticipation about entering the postseason and the possibility of a 2A Western Slope League title.
For the other, the last time playing varsity football was about one thing and one thing only.
MCHS took the visiting Rifle Bears to task in the last game of the fall, ultimately falling 52-26 against the conference champs, gaining more points than any other team has against the Western Slope powerhouse.
For that matter, it was the most points the Bulldogs have had against the gridiron giants in 10 years, a 42-35 loss to Rifle in 2008 the last time they scored more than four touchdowns. since a 21-18 MoCo win in 2010. Since then, apart from wins over the Bears of 21-16 in 2009 and 21-18 in 2010, the Dogs have had strictly mercy rule defeats — 48-6, 45-0, 62-0 and 62-6 total leading up to a 41-0 loss in their most recent meeting in 2015 when the Bears were still a 3A team.
Rifle’s entry into the 2A division this season served to instill dread into the WSL, and even with their 20-19 loss to Aspen showing their vulnerability, Moffat County knew it would be one of their most difficult matches.
To be sure, the Bears packed a punch from the start as running back Tanner Vines’ reputation for rushes both long and short, ramming through the defensive line early and scoring on a 43-yard dash, fellow RB Levi Warfel gaining the conversion on a dive play.
Still, the MCHS passing game could do no wrong in the fourth quarter. Colby Beaver found receivers Victor Silva, Cale Scranton and Kameron Baker with ease on five straight completions. But, Beaver broke out his track and field skills for the touchdown, running for six yards and ending with a surprise backward flop into the end zone that would have done Dick Fosbury proud.
Silva caught Beaver’s pass for the two-fer but was brought down just before the goal line to make it 8-6, Rifle.
The Bears’ response was swift — Warfel sprinted for nearly 60 yards before being brought down at the 4-yard line, Vines completing the drive from there. And, just as the Dogs were getting their heads in offense mode, Warfel snagged an interception that he ran back for 54 yards, the scoreboard reading 22-6 as the first quarter closed.
After the Bulldogs were forced to punt to start the second period, Vines picked up small gains again and again as Rifle saw no fourth downs and he gained another four-yard TD.
The MoCo crowd got back on its feet as Beaver connected with Dario Alexander for a 34-yard pass, while Cale Scranton’s over-the-shoulder catch for 22 yards kept them thrilled.
Likewise, the Bulldog D was slowing down Rifle’s progress if not completely stopping them. Drake Doherty earned the first 4th for the Bears with a suplex tackle of Vines, and though Rifle moved the chains from there, they didn’t have the clock left to get the TD, opting for a 30-yard field goal to close the half.
A third quarter that didn’t do much for the MoCo offense saw the Bears pick up two more trips to the end zone, while the fourth quarter opened with back-to-back short catches by Kevin Hernandez before Beaver zipped it to Connor Etzler, who maneuvered the coverage for a 51-yard TD.
Not to be outdone, Cale Scranton scored the Dogs’ final six points of the season as Beaver threw a Hail Mary to the sideline that was nearly picked off only for Scranton to snatch it back and score on the 50-yard reception.
Rifle’s Hayden Wells gained one more pick on the final play of the night, though the Bears were far more excited moments later when coach Damon Wells broke the news that they were conference champs thanks to Basalt’s 27-6 defeat of Aspen to make the 8-1 Longhorns runners-up.
With Delta’s 47-6 win the same against Coal Ridge, the Skiers tumbled to fourth in the league, both Aspen and the Panthers 6-3, while the Bulldogs place fifth at 3-6.
On Sunday, the top four teams in the conference were all announced as playoff-bound. Basalt remained the highest-seeded WSL team at No. 3 in 2A, set to host D’Evelyn, while seven seed Rifle will bring in Eaton.
At 11th, Delta will travel to Platte Valley, and 12th-ranked Aspen goes to Salida.
Though the Bulldogs’ season is done, the bout with Rifle helped keep them high in the WSL categories.
In the best statistical game of his career, Beaver threw a personal record 270 yards, 17 for 26 in accuracy, having a hand in all four TDs. With an additional eight in rushing, he outdid even Vines’ 274 on the ground to lead in total individual yardage.
Beaver’s final throwing numbers for the year went into four digits, with 1,224 yards to finish the regular season second in the conference among QBs.
Cale Scranton also had his best night catching, his 130 yards bringing his season total to 462, ranked fourth in catching.
Cale tied with Teeter for the night in tackles with a dozen apiece, with Hernandez and Corey Scranton each gaining 10 hits.
Leading the league in tackle totals for nearly the full season, Teeter finished with 95 to keep it close with Delta contenders Aiden Barrios and Caleb Miramontes. While the Dogs didn’t have any sacks against the Bears, Jared Baker remains the highest in the listings with seven on the season.
Kicker Joahan Quezada was two for two on MoCo’s two PATs in a night where coincidentally all the scoring was done by seniors.
Beaver, Scranton, Etzler, Quezada, Silva, Jared Baker, Josh Teeter, Angel Rodriguez, Logan Knez were all honored as part of Senior Night as were Bryson Davis and Greg Hixson, recovering from a mid-season knee injury and summer surgery, respectively, with team manager Trinitie Beckner likewise celebrating her final year at MCHS.
The traditional pre-game presentation was followed at halftime by a similar lineup for other upperclassmen. After a routine by the full spirit squad, cheer captain Abigail Hall broke out the dance moves with fellow senior Sambu Shrestha for a two-person piece of choreography.
Announcers likewise honored MCHS boys golf senior Torin Reed and the oldest members of the band program: Caitlen Krause, Molly Neton, James Brumblow, Constantine Daniels, Abigail Fritz, Thomas Barnes, Caymen Shepherd and AJ Barber.
The final outing of the season on the Proving Grounds hit hard for the full football team but no one harder than the ones for whom it was the last high school game period.
One last varsity huddle saw team captain Jared Baker pour his heart out to players who will return next year.
“You don’t give 100 percent, you’re gonna regret it,” he said tearfully.
Co-captain Teeter said the effort of everyone involved was what he wanted to see in the last chance to show hustle and heart.
“I just hope it sets a tone for next year,” he said.
Coach Jamie Nelson noted that the outgoing athletes’ dedication will be missed, and seeing how much they cared in their last time together was just what he wanted.
“These seniors have put a lot of time in, and the realization of it is really hitting them,” Nelson said. “You can keep them busy, keep them going, but you don’t know what it’s like until it hits you. These seniors were a great example for our lowerclassmen to make sure the program is left better than they found it.”