Moffat County seniors shine as Bulldog football bests Rifle for homecoming
In 2021, the Moffat County football team overcame a program that was a thorn in their sides for more than a decade. On Friday night, they proved it wasn’t a fluke.
The Bulldogs crept past the Rifle Bears 29-26 in a thrilling homecoming match that served as the Class 2A West League opener.
MoCo defeated Rifle last season for the first time since 2010 in a 21-18 game, and after beating the Bears on the road last year, the Bulldogs were eager to do it again on their home field.
‘Back in the groove’
Perhaps no one on the roster was looking forward to the start of the conference schedule more than Bulldog senior Evan Atkin.
As one of the leading running backs in the state last year, he was raring to start this fall fresh, but a shoulder injury in the first game kept him benched throughout September.
Besides catching three passes for 48 yards and kicking three PATs, he earned the highest single-game rushing yardage of his career, racking up 254 on nearly 40 carries.
The numbers included three touchdowns, one of which came from a 70-yard sprint to the end zone.
“It was great getting back in the groove like that,” Atkin said. “It felt just like last year.”
Hold nothing back
Though Atkin’s return was a highlight, all the eldest members of the Bulldogs were making the most of the big game and big crowd, such as senior Kaden Hixson, who weaved through the Bears’ defense and scored a TD on a 33-yard sweep.
Although he may not have been expecting to add to the scoreboard as a lineman, upperclassman Tristan Malvitz was happy to dive on and come up with the pigskin after a fumble on a two-point conversion.
“It wasn’t a pass or illegal man downfield, so I just jumped on it,” Malvitz said.
Malvitz said the team came into the action a little wary but was quickly feeling confident once Atkin got up to his old tricks.
“We’re glad to have him back again,” Malvitz said. “He could get hit at a million miles an hour and stand right back up.”
As for other Bulldog seniors, Johnny Lopez recorded two interceptions, and Garrett Anson forced a fumble, as well as blocking a Rifle extra point attempt.
Michael Voloshin had a shining moment late in the game as the Bears threatened to pull off the upset on a last-minute drive. With coach Kip Hafey calling on him from the sidelines to make a play, Voloshin earned a crucial tackle for loss.
“It was definitely about fighting in the trenches tonight. It was a special moment for us,” Voloshin said. “(Our) last homecoming was definitely one to remember.”
Despite throwing his first interception of the season — which turned into a pick-six — quarterback Cort Murphy stayed steady on defense with eight tackles.
Additionally, Ethan Schaaf led the team with nine tackles, not to mention two sacks. Schaaf’s fellow juniors Bryant Carlson and Evan Beaver played lockdown defense on pass coverage, with Carlson also recovering a fumble, while Anson, juniors Aron Aguilar and Hudson Jones, and sophomore Zach Hedman also added heavily to the tackle tally.
“For this being our last homecoming as high-schoolers, that was a lot of motivation to step up, but so did the underclassmen,” Malvitz said. “The classes of 2024 and 2025 really stepped up a lot too. The freshmen who dressed out and were getting everyone hyped up on the sideline was big too.”
The rest of the West
With league play underway, Basalt spent Friday night hosting the Grand Valley Cardinals, coasting to a running clock win of 42-6.
Elsewhere, Aspen gave Coal Ridge the Ski Town Special with a 17-6 defeat — the same score the Titans took against Steamboat Springs.
With Aspen, Coal Ridge, Grand Valley, and Rifle all at 2-3, Basalt and MoCo are the only teams in the bunch that are currently above .500, with the Longhorns at 5-0 and the Dogs 4-1.
While the Skiers and Cards face off this weekend, the Bears will host Basalt, and Coal Ridge will bring in Moffat County.
The close outcome with Rifle was a bit of a cause for concern for MoCo coaches, though they’re expecting positive things in the weeks to come.
“The kids are making every game this year exciting. I can’t say I’m super-excited about them making it so exciting, but that’s what we are this year. They’re always battling,” said head coach Lance Scranton.
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