Rifle football misses last-second field goal, is stunned by Aspen in crucial game
RIFLE — Two fourth-and-goal prayers answered for touchdowns and a Rifle missed field goal as time expired helped the Aspen High School football team stun host Rifle Friday night at Bears Stadium, 20-19.
It is just the second loss at home in the regular season in four years for the Rifle football program, and is the first loss in 2A Western Slope League play this season.
Rifle had to fight through a number of obstacles, namely flags thrown against them at inopportune times. But the resilient group found a way to battle back late, giving themselves a chance to win the game on a night in which things seems to consistently go against them on their own field.
“I’m proud of our boys,” said Rifle coach Damon Wells said after the loss. “I hope that we can learn from this and apply the lessons learned from this game in our every day lives. We certainly faced a lot of adversity tonight, and hopefully we’ll use that adversity to be the best we can be for the rest of our lives.”
Tied 6-6 at the half, the Skiers answered Rifle’s third quarter touchdown with two unanswered scores of their own, taking a 20-13 lead midway through the fourth quarter, creating some tense moments for the Bears at home.
Rifle didn’t blink though as the Bears turned to workhorse fullback Tanner Vines on the ground. Vines capped off a 54-yard drive on a 4-yard plunge with 4:45 left in the fourth quarter to make it a 20-19 game.
Trailing by one, Wells decided to go for the two points and the lead, but Levi Warfel was stopped inches short, keeping Aspen in the lead.
Leaning heavily on its defense, Rifle forced Aspen into a 3rd-and-26 deep in their own end on the next possession. Aspen nearly bailed itself out again on another desperation heave, but the Aspen receiver dropped a great ball from quarterback Tyler Ward, forcing Aspen to punt the ball away.
Following the stop, disaster struck quickly for Rifle as Holden Stutsman was picked off by Noah Hollander on the first play from scrimmage, giving Aspen the ball right back with 2:27 left in the game.
Again, Rifle’s defense came up with a huge stop as Wyatt Warfel knifed in through the line from his nose tackle position for a shoestring sack on 4th and 5, forcing the turnover on downs, giving Rifle’s offense one last shot.
Riding Vines again, the Bears marched all the way to the Aspen 16 yard line, where the Bears were stopped on third down, setting up a 32-yard field goal try by Rifle’s Eddie Ruiz. On a slick, mud-covered field, Ruiz got off a strong kick, but the game-winning attempt drifted wide right, giving Aspen the win on the road.
Prior to the late-game drama, Rifle dominated the early portion of the game, marching down to the Aspen 24 yard line on the first possession of the game, before then reaching the Aspen 7 yard line on its next possession. An illegal chop block and a false start pushed the Bears backwards before eventually turning the ball over on downs without putting any points on the board.
The Bears forced a three-and-out on Aspen’s first possession before Carter Pressler picked off Aspen’s Ward on the Skiers’ second possession, setting up Stutsman’s 1-yard rushing touchdown, giving the Bears a 6-0 lead with 9:12 left in the second quarter.
Aspen and Rifle traded punts after that before Rifle’s Kenny Tlaxcala undercut a throw by Ward for the interception near midfield, stopping another Aspen drive.
Stutsman gave it back to Aspen five plays later as Aspen’s Noah Akin stepped in front of a thrown towards the left sideline, returning it 67 yards to the Rifle 8 yard line. Aspen went backward from there thanks to a false start and a sack that pushed them back to the 14 yard line. Two plays later, Ward found Hollander on fourth-and-goal from the 14 for the game-tying touchdown with nine seconds left in the half.
Coming out of the half tied at 6-6, Rifle forced a quick three-and-out by Aspen and proceeded to go 50 yards on its next possession for the go-ahead score on a 15-yard bulldozing run up the gut by Vines with 7:23 left in the third quarter.
The Skiers responded by marching down to the Rifle 7 yard line, aided by a 33-yard pitch and catch from Ward to Hollander and a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty — one of nine roughing the passer calls on Rifle on the night. Aspen had a touchdown called off due to a holding call, and then had an illegal block penalty push them all the back to the Rifle 32 yard line. On fourth-and-goal from the 32, Ward found Dylan Hendrickson in the back of the end zone on a jump ball for the touchdown. Ward then found Max Ufkes on a dumpoff to the left for the 2-point conversion, giving Aspen a 14-13 lead with 4:50 left in the third quarter.
Rifle then turned the ball over on downs, leading to Ward’s third touchdown pass of the game for Aspen, this one a 13-yard throw on third and goal from the 13 to Trey Thorpe, giving Aspen a 20-13 lead, which happened to be just enough points scored on the night for the Skiers to get the monumental road win in league play.
Despite the back-and-forth drama on the field between the two teams, the game was a flag-filled affair as the crew officiating the game threw a combined 41 flags — a handful of which were waved off — in the game. Twenty-five of those flags went against Rifle, including the nine roughing the passer calls, five of which came in the second half.
The loss drops Rifle to 6-1 (2-1 2A WSL) on the season. It doesn’t get easier for Rifle next week as the Basalt Longhorns ride into town for another big league matchup in Rifle.
“I don’t know right now how we bounce back,” Wells said. “This hasn’t really happened to us here often. It’ll be a big test for our group to move past this one.”
Aspen improved to 5-2 overall and 2-1 in WSL play. The Skiers host Coal Ridge next week for homecoming before finishing out the regular season on the road against Basalt.
There are three major meetings on tap in coming days related to recreation or development in the middle Roaring Fork Valley.
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