Never-say-die attitude at hand as Moffat County football faces Rifle
Their final regular season game may have been one of their toughest on paper, but that didn’t keep Moffat County High School football from creating some chaos against a team that’s been a well-oiled machine this fall.
MCHS lost 41-6 on the road Friday against 2A Western Slope League champions Rifle to put the Bulldogs at 5-4 for the regular year as the boys blue and white anxiously await the possibility of the postseason.
As dominating a night as it was for the Bears, the Dogs kept the conference kings addled at the onset. An unsuccessful starting drive for Moffat County led to Rifle’s first possession with a quick march down the field peppered with penalties.
The Bears swiftly got into the Bulldog red zone, but the MoCo defense stunned Rifle fans as Taran Teeter forced a fumble that was recovered by teammate Joe Campagna within the 5-yard line, only the second time this season the Bears have experienced a turnover against them.
Operating out of their own end zone, the Dogs couldn’t get far, and a shanked punt set up the Bears for an easy touchdown with less than five minutes left in the first quarter, a PAT giving them the 7-0 lead.
“We’ve gotta learn to capitalize on stuff like that and finish so we can get more of a positive start,” MCHS head coach Jamie Nelson said.
Another failed punt attempt by the Bulldogs again gave their opponents prime position to score. A rare Bear pass TD was negated with an illegal man downfield to push them back, but the run game got going again with a wide sweep to score from inside the 10, moving up to 14-0 with less than two minutes remaining in the opening period.
Big penalties were accompanied by an interception on the Dogs’ next drive, which was promptly followed by a dive over the goal line from one yard to close the quarter 21-0.
A big catch by Dagan White got the Bulldogs their initial first down to start the second quarter at midfield, but a decision to go for it on fourth down gave it back to Rifle anyway as the Bears picked off Ryan Peck for the second time, a fourth TD following close behind to move to 28-0.
After relying on passing, Peck tucked it and ran, with Campagna following suit to get some good yardage on the next drive, yet a holding call and a bobbled snap hurt the Dogs heavily, and after the punt an 18-yard Rifle TD catch came soon after.
Peck got into a groove hitting receivers left and right, but the Rifle defensive line responded with two straight sacks, though Peck threaded the needle to Dario Alexander on a lengthy third down to advance into Bears’ territory followed by a big grab by Kameron Baker to move the chains.
Peck was overwhelmed by the pass rush, as Rifle took him down to regain possession with one second left before the break, but a Hail Mary pass saw Rifle on the wrong side of a pickoff for the first time this season as the Bulldogs’ Ethan Hafey gained an interception off quarterback Holden Stutsman at the goal line to close the half.
Out of the locker room, the Bears had a monster kick return start that also saw Campagna briefly taken off the field, with a big touchdown pass on the next play — albeit with conflicting interference calls — moving the game into mercy-rule mode, the silver lining for Bulldogs being Rifle’s first unsuccessful extra point of the night to make it 41-0.
With Rifle working in more of their younger players late in the third quarter, the Dogs forced another fumble courtesy of Alexander to get the ball back. Huge catches by White and Baker gained substantial yardage as Peck got his throwing arm back in motion as the fourth period began.
“Ryan really got his confidence up and started settling down and made some improvements,” Nelson said.
Once in the red zone, however, it was Alexander who threw the seven-yard TD pass as Peck sent him the pigskin in the backfield, with Alexander whipping it to Ethan Hafey in the end zone as the Bulldog coaches brought back the double pass that served them well last year, though an unsuccessful PAT kept their point total for the evening at six.
The single down suddenly made Alexander the highest rated quarterback in the conference for the night — a perfect one for one and a touchdown giving him a QB rating of 154.2 on MaxPreps.
The trick play was a risk, Nelson said, though it was one that showed how much players could bounce back even amid certain defeat.
“There’s always a balance of trying to keep it fun, and we were trying some things we’ve been working on, the kids have been working hard on it, so this gave them an opportunity to see if they could execute it,” Nelson said.
While the Dogs earned a grand total of eight rushing yards after factoring in negative numbers, Peck’s passing results were a huge improvement from a week earlier in Delta, 13 for 31 in accuracy with 196 yards, finishing the regular season with 1,110 off 87 completions.
The lion’s share of the Friday total went to White with 101 yards on four catches, his longest for 42. Alexander’s longest reception was 20, altogether earning 45 from five grabs. Baker had two for 33 and Teeter one for 16, while Ethan Hafey ended with eight yards after being targeted by both Alexander and Peck.
The running clock meant less time for players on both sides of the ball, but league leaders Campagna and Teeter added to their season tackle totals with six hits each to move to 89 and 87, respectively.
Ethan Hafey also earned six, as well as teaming with brother Logan for the Dogs’ lone tackle for loss of yardage.
The final minutes of the game saw some of MoCo’s youngest players hit the field in their last opportunity of the regular season to get some varsity playing time.
Though the Dogs will see Fruita Monument’s JV squad Monday, the Rifle outing was all the more crucial.
“That keeps them fired up and excited and hungry,” Nelson said.
While Rifle moves to a perfect 9-0 for the year and a guaranteed 2A playoff berth, MCHS remains a likely bet to also move into the second season, standing at 14th in RPI compared to the Bears’ third, with even a loss to such a juggernaut helping their numbers.
Also helping the Dogs’ chances was other action in the league. While 8-1 Delta, the WSL runner-up, slaughtered 1-8 Coal Ridge — the last place Titans managing to skirt a shutout in a 47-8 finish — the game to watch was between Basalt and Aspen.
A narrow rivalry match saw the Skiers determined to finally break their losing streak against the Longhorns, and though Aspen led much of the fourth quarter, Basalt took the W at 17-14 to move to 7-2, giving the Skiers a 4-5 tally.
Though Aspen finished the league schedule in fourth compared to MoCo in fifth, their lower RPI ranking all but eliminates them from playoff contention.
Weekend games across the state will determine how the rankings go, and Colorado High School Activities Association will release the playoff brackets Sunday.
Though there’s no certainty that the team will have a 10th time on the gridiron, Nelson said the end of the conference schedule at least showed Bulldogs’ determination against some of the strongest schools in the state.
“I’m just proud of them playing four quarters tonight. They battled, and we knew this would be a tough one, and they kept swinging. That’s all we can ask,” he said. “There’s been some ups and downs this year, but there’s also been fun and excitement. I think as a team, we’ve learned a lot, grown up a lot. It’s been forcing us to grow up fast with the level of speed and athleticism that teams in our league have. That’s going to be some positives for 2020.”