Friday night lights to showcase Garfield County rivalries with three big games

Rich Allen
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
LEFT: Glenwood Springs High School head football coach Pat Engle talks with quarterback Joaquin Sandoval during a scrimmage. RIGHT: Rifle High School head football coach Ryan Whittington jogs off the field with players during a practice at the high school.
Rich Allen/Glenwood Springs Post Independent

The stakes aren’t as high this time around, but don’t tell the Bears or the Demons.

On a Friday stacked with three area prep football games, one stands above the rest: Glenwood Springs at Rifle. The rivalry rekindles after an overtime shootout in the 3A state semifinals in May sent the Bears on their way to an eventual state title in the latest chapter of the schools’ long-standing back-and-forth.

“All of us want it really badly,” Glenwood senior Blake Nieslanik said. “Glenwood and Rifle have been rivals for as long as I can remember. It doesn’t matter who the better team is. Both teams show up to play, both teams always want to win, so it’s always a good game.”

Last season, a new chapter in the head-to-head opened. On April 14, in the pandemic-induced spring season that saw the teams share a league for the first time since 2017, Glenwood Springs beat Rifle, 22-15. The victory helped guide them to their first playoff visit since 2014.

It was the Demons’ first win over the Bears since November 2010, snapping a nine-game losing streak spanning as many years. Glenwood nearly got over the hump several times, with five of those losses decided by one score or fewer. The Bears redeemed themselves in the playoff rematch and returned to the recent tradition of beating the Demons.

This year’s senior class, however, has had a different experience.

“We’ve played these same kids every year since third grade,” Rifle senior quarterback Trey Caldwell said. “It’s always been a battle. Through middle school, we never beat them. Last year was my first time beating them as a starter.”

Now, two different teams enter Bears Stadium. Glenwood coach Pat Engle saw 19 seniors leave and rostered only 26 on their varsity in their first win of the season on Aug. 27.

Rifle’s championship team lost 10 seniors — and coach Todd Casebier — but returns a large core group of then-juniors. The Bears are under the guidance of their third head coach in as many seasons, as former Rifle quarterback Ryan Whittington returns to his alma mater to lead the charge on a repeat title run in the 2A circuit.

“Expectations are high, obviously,” Whittington said. “The expectations never change. It’s always to get into the rodeo at the end and whatever happens, happens.”

Glenwood Springs started the season with a 41-13 win over Harrison last week, while Rifle fell to Palisade, 35-3.

New Coal Ridge coach gets first test against former mentor

Crockett Williams played for Scott Parker during his tenure as a student at Coal Ridge High School. In his first game as head coach of the Titans, Williams will see Parker on the opposite sideline, now leading Grand Valley.

An interleague rivalry that Williams was familiar with has dissipated after Grand Valley dropped to 1A, but it’s still a test to see the Cardinals in day one.

“They are in a different league now, but they’re still one heck of an opponent, no doubt about that,” Williams said. “We’re excited to get to playing and have our first game set the tone for the season here at home and show everybody what we’ve been working on. We’re going to play aggressive and faster than Coal Ridge teams have played in the past.”

The Titans went 3-3 in the spring season in their temporary 3A classification and graduated 14 seniors over the summer.

Parker is looking to build on the spring season in his second campaign leading the Cardinals. After going 3-3 in league play plus a playoff visit in his inaugural season, Grand Valley beat Olathe 42-8 to start the fall with a roster that added nine players compared to last year.

“We’d like to continue to move forward,” Parker said. “We’d like to stay on that track of just building the program with numbers and playing competitive football.”

The two schools haven’t met on the gridiron since Nov. 18, 2015, a 21-14 Coal Ridge victory.

The Titans and Cardinals meet in New Castle at 5 p.m. as Coal Ridge opens its season, and Grand Valley looks for its second win.

Roaring Fork returns to the varsity gridiron

Friday night lights return in earnest to Carbondale this week also, as the revitalized Roaring Fork High School varsity football team takes on Peyton in Class 1A action.

Game time is 7 p.m. at the Rams’ field, situated next to Carbondale Middle School.

Roaring Fork football coach Eric Bollock, a Rams alumni, runs a pattern with the team during a recent practice. The program's proud history is displayed on the side of the equipment shed in the background.
John Stroud/Glenwood Spirngs Post Independent

A two-year varsity hiatus following the fall 2017 season allowed the Rams to build the football program back up through the junior varsity and middle school ranks. Roaring Fork made its return to varsity competition, going 0-6 during the pandemic-altered spring season this year, mostly playing up in competition against larger schools that normally play at the 2A level.

“We don’t call it a comeback, because we’ve been here for years,” head coach Eric Bollock said of a proud Carbondale football tradition that includes three state championships in 1973, 1977 and 1985. “Carbondale is a football town, and we’ve definitely got the momentum back. They just needed someone to turn the lights on.”

The return to the traditional fall season puts the Rams in the 1A Western Slope League along with Grand Valley, Olathe, Cedaredge, Gunnison, Meeker and the new North Fork High School, which merged two traditionally strong football programs from Paonia and Hotchkiss into one.

The Rams opened the season with a 50-20 non-league loss on the road at Ignacio last weekend. Still, that 20 points matched what Roaring Fork scored during the entire six-game spring run.

Following another non-league game against Peyton on Friday night, the Rams will get a chance to prove themselves in the highly competitive 1A WSL.

“I think we’re going to stack up really well against them,” Bollock said. “It’s definitely nice playing in a division your size. The upside for the kids is they know they’re not going to have these huge numbers of kids on the opposing team, and physically we’re going to be more or less about the same size.

“The camaraderie on the team is also completely different this season,” Bollock added. “If we can get that harnessed and get them supporting each other and playing as a team, everything else falls in place.”

Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud contributed to this story.