After losing late to Rifle the first time, Basalt hopes to learn from mistakes
From players to coaches, members of the Basalt High School football team have repeatedly said they believe they should have beaten Rifle last month. The teams played in an Oct. 25 regular-season game, Rifle escaping with a 21-9 win after trailing early in the fourth quarter on the BHS field.
“We are kind of glad to have a chance for redemption because I felt like we should have won the game. Hopefully this time it will be a different turnout,” BHS junior receiver Rulbe Alvarado said. “We just got a little lost. I don’t know if we got confident. I don’t know, but hopefully it doesn’t happen again.”
The teams are set for a rematch on Saturday, and this time there is a lot more on the line. No. 9 seed Basalt (8-2) will host No. 1 Rifle (10-0) in the second round of the Class 2A state playoffs, with the winner advancing to play either No. 4 Delta or No. 5 Faith Christian in the semifinals. Kickoff for all four of Saturday’s 2A quarterfinal games is scheduled for 1 p.m.
“We’ve been telling the kids all week, we feel great athlete to athlete,” BHS coach Carl Frerichs said. “They are a really well coached team. It’s really fun to see what they do and we got to make sure we got our kids in the best possible situation to combat some of that X’s and O’s stuff.”
When you talk about football on the Western Slope, not many teams come with the pedigree that Rifle does. They were a longtime power in Class 3A, winning the state championship in 2004 under former coach Darrel Gorham. Damon Wells, the team’s current head coach, was the defensive coordinator that season.
The Bears moved down to 2A last season. They’ve won the 2A Western Slope League each of the past two seasons, their only league loss coming at home against Aspen in a stunner a year ago. Rifle has beaten Basalt four times in four seasons, going back to non-league wins in 2016 and 2017 when the Bears were still in 3A. Prior to 2016, the teams hadn’t played each other in recent memory.
So, maybe meeting up in the playoffs is a way to make up for lost time.
“It really is an advantage to both teams when you’ve played each other because I think we have a better feel for what they do than most teams. But they probably feel the exact same thing about what we do as well,” Frerichs said. “I do feel we have a pretty good idea of what they want to do. But Damon does such a great job of always being one step ahead of your defense.”
Rifle averages 41 points per game, having outscored opponents 410-98 this season. Outside of the 21 points Basalt held them to, the Bears scored at least 31 points in every game, and in that game (a 31-3 win over Eagle Valley) all the points were scored in the first half.
Hardly an offensive juggernaut, the Basalt defense has certainly carried most of the load this season. Outside of the 35 points allowed to Delta in a game that got away from the Longhorns early, Basalt has been able to hold most opponents at bay, including in last week’s 13-7 first-round playoff win over No. 8 The Classical Academy. That same defense allowed them to hang with Rifle back in October, only a week after that 35-6 loss to Delta.
Having a chance in Saturday’s playoff game will be about fixing the offensive mistakes from that first matchup.
“We just didn’t capitalize,” BHS senior receiver Jackson Rapaport said. “They stopped us on the 5-yard-line twice. Props to their defense, but when we are that close, we should be able to score. In this game, we are not going to miss chances like that.”
In that Oct. 25 game in Basalt, the Longhorns came out swinging. Sophomore running back Cole Dombrowski ran in a touchdown on the first drive to give BHS a 6-0 lead after a blocked extra point. The Bears answered right back, a 1-yard sneak by Rifle quarterback Holden Stutsman making it 7-6 in favor of the visitors late in the first quarter.
That’s when the defenses manned up, the 7-6 score holding all the way into the fourth quarter. A field goal by Basalt’s Carlos Palomares gave BHS the lead at 9-7 with just inside 12 minutes to play in the game.
However, Rifle owned Basalt from there, with star tailback Levi Warfel leading the charge that effectively ran out the clock on the home team. Stopping Warfel is the key to stopping the Rifle offense — the senior rushed 20 times for 172 yards in that game, and has exactly 1,500 yards and 21 touchdowns rushing this season, per MaxPreps.
“We just kind of lost a little bit of our footing in the fourth quarter. I just think if we keep going without slowing down we will take them this time,” Alvarado said. “They are just very disciplined and they go 100% until the echo of the whistle, which is a huge part of their program.”
Despite a lethargic finish on Oct. 25, Basalt felt it proved to everyone it could hang with Rifle. Saturday’s playoff rematch will be about trying to finish what it started.
“Our defense stepped up huge,” Rapaport said of the first game. “I really just think whoever comes out and wants it more is going to take this game.”
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