Rifle football dominates second half, gives Basalt first loss in 35-14 win
RIFLE — Needing a bounce back win in 2A Western Slope League play, the Rifle High School football team dominated in all phases on the game against Basalt on Friday night at Bears Stadium in Rifle, pulling away late for an all-important 35-14 win, knocking the No. 4 Longhorns from the unbeaten ranks.
Coming off of a heartbreaking 20-19 last-second loss to Aspen last week, the Bears came out with redemption on the mind Friday night, which happened to be senior night as well.
Riding a powerful ground game and a suffocating defense that forced five turnovers, the Bears wore down the Longhorns in the second half, pulling away for the 21-point win at home, keeping their 2A Western Slope League championship aspirations alive.
“Throughout the whole summer we’ve emphasized conditioning for the fourth quarter,” said Tanner Vines, Rifle’s senior fullback. “Every time we condition or lift, the fourth quarter is always the biggest emphasis. Being able to do that in the second half, that’s Rifle football. To be able to keep that standard up of how we play was important.”
The game seemed to swing in Rifle’s favor to start the second half despite the Bears leading 13-7. On the opening kickoff, the Bears appeared to fumble the ball away to the Longhorns, but an inadvertent whistle gave the Bears new life, leading to a re-kick. The fumble would have given Basalt the ball at the Rifle 25-yard line to open the half.
Instead, Basalt had to wait nearly six minutes to get the ball to start the second half, but the Longhorns wasted no time cashing in as senior quarterback Trevor Reuss snuck into the end zone from 1-yard out with 3:04 left in the third quarter, giving Basalt its first lead of the night at 14-13. It was short-lived as Rifle scored two touchdowns in five minutes to pull away from the Longhorns.
Following Basalt’s go-ahead drive, Rifle responded by going 52 yards in six plays, highlighted by a 17-yard naked bootleg by junior quarterback Holden Stutsman and a 15-yard scamper by Vines, leading to a 1-yard touchdown from Vines and a 2-point conversion from Stutsman to junior Levi Warfel, making it a 21-14 game with 49 seconds left in the third quarter.
“I said on our radios before that drive that I felt we needed to put our kids in a better position to succeed offensively,” said Damon Wells, Rifle’s head coach. “They played well, and they really responded. Basalt is a really good team, and I don’t think anyone should want to play them in the playoffs.”
Rifle senior linebacker Paden Kinion picked off Reuss on a fake punt to start the fourth quarter, leading to a 43-yard touchdown run by Vines, putting the game away for the Bears with 10:10 left in the fourth quarter.
“It feels amazing to be able to bounce back like we did tonight,” Kinion said. “It’s about all of us being able to do our own individual job on the field, and tonight we were able to do that on both sides of the ball against such a great team. It’s a great feeling to bounce back the way we did.”
The Bears tacked on one more touchdown for good measure after junior safety Kenny Tlaxcala picked off Reuss on a leaping grab, setting up Vines’ third rushing touchdown of the night, this one from 1 yard out, capping off the 35-14 win.
In the loss, Reuss threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to junior Jackson Rapaport, and added the rushing touchdown to his credit before leaving the game late due to injury. Basalt turned the ball over five times (three interceptions and two fumbles), while also turning the ball over on downs two times, resulting in the high-powered offense getting slowed down by Rifle on the night.
“I love our defense,” Wells said. “We did a heck of a lot of work in the offseason. I love our scheme, and I love that we have answers. Our kids responded tonight.”
Prior to the dominant second half, Rifle jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead after 1-yard punt by Basalt thanks to a high snap. On a reverse pass, senior Eddie Medina found senior Dalton Pruett from 24 yards out, staking the Bears to a quick 7-0 lead. Basalt responded with Reuss’ 6-yard touchdown to Rapaport before Vines scored from 8 yards out on a sweep left, making it 13-7 Rifle after a missed extra point.
Late in the first half, Rifle junior cornerback Carter Pressler picked off Reuss before the two teams traded turnovers on downs heading into halftime. Tlaxcala and Kinion added the other two interceptions for the Bears, while junior Ethan Mackley and senior Kevin Tlaxcala recovered fumbles in the win.
The loss drops Basalt (7-1, 3-1 2A Western Slope League) into a three-way tie with the Aspen Skiers, which beat the Bears 20-19 last week in Rifle, and the Bears. Rifle (7-1, 3-1 2A WSL) travels to Moffat County next week for its final game of the regular season, while Basalt hosts Aspen with a league championship on the line.
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The dual-sport student-athlete was named to the Class 3A Western Slope League all-conference first team for softball as one of two Carbondale players on the Basalt High School softball team team last fall.