Rifle football uses running game to beat Basalt 34-14 in season opener
RIFLE — Breaking in two new running backs for full-time roles to start the season, the Rifle football team looked like it didn’t miss a beat from the previous seasons as junior Tanner Vines rumbled for 226 yards and one touchdown, while sophomore Levi Warfel added 140 yards and a touchdown on a night where the Bears punted the ball away just once in a 34-14 win in the zero week matchup against Basalt High School at Bears Stadium.
Friday night’s game was much different from last season’s season opener when the two teams traded touchdown after touchdown in a shootout. This time around, Rifle’s defense, led by seniors Ramon Salvidrez and Connor Gould, as well as sophomore Ariel Herrera, stood tall to hold the Longhorns to just seven points until a late touchdown capped off the final score.
“Our kids responded tonight,” Rifle head coach Damon Wells said. “We asked a lot of them, and we had a solid plan. I thought our kids played very selflessly, and I think that’s what you saw tonight. That’s why we were able to limit some of those big plays.”
The game certainly started off with the appearance of a shootout as Vines took the opening handoff 64 yards untouched up the gut to make it 7-0 Rifle just 15 seconds into the game. The interior trio of seniors Wyatt Warfel, Salvidrez and Gould opened up a massive hole in the heart of Basalt’s defense, allowing Vines to gallop home for the score.
“It was really special to me to have that run to start the game,” Vines said. “It was a great way to start the game and a great start to what hopefully is a special season. That run helped us get momentum going to start the game. I love that group up front; they work so hard and practice so hard. A lot of credit goes to them.”
Following Vines’ score, the Rifle defense stood tall, forcing Basalt into a three-and-out on its first possession to give the ball right back to a white-hot Rifle offense.
Basalt responded by forcing Rifle to go three-and-out backed by an illegal substitution penalty on the Bears, allowing the Longhorns to set up shop at Rifle’s 18-yard line after a short punt.
Four plays later, Rifle blocked Basalt’s field goal attempt to keep the visitors off the board.
Backed by momentum gained by the blocked field goal, Rifle marched 74 yards in 13 plays — highlighted by two 14-yard runs by senior Brandon Fletchall — as Levi Warfel scored his first varsity touchdown on a 6-yard scamper off the right side to make it 14-0 Bears with just 1:07 left in the opening quarter.
The Longhorns’ offense came back out onto the field trailing by two scores in the first quarter, but Basalt simply couldn’t get anything going against a stout Rifle defense, leading to another punt. This time, Vines came up big on the punt, returning it 40 yards to midfield, setting up the Bears’ offense in great field position for its fourth drive of the game.
Eleven plays and 54 yards later, senior quarterback Luke Ellis snuck in from 1 yard out to make it 20-0 Rifle after the missed extra point.
Credit to Basalt, though, as junior quarterback Trevor Reuss marched the struggling offense back onto the field and directed the Longhorns down the field for a scoring drive as senior running back Noah Williams bounced off of three would-be tacklers before crossing the goal line for a 6-yard touchdown to pull Basalt to within 13 points, 20-7, at the half.
“We played on our heels for a while and then we really started to play better halfway through the second quarter,” Basalt coach Carl Frerichs said. “Our own penalties kind of killed several drives. We did lots of good things. They really did a great job getting off the ball.”
Coming out of halftime, Basalt received the second-half kickoff and proceeded to eat up nearly half of the third quarter while running 11 plays, but the Longhorns barely made it past midfield before punting the ball away.
Rifle turned around and ate up the rest of the third quarter as the Bears’ offense ran 13 plays to cover 93 yards as Fletchall beat Basalt senior Raul Torres around the edge for a 12-yard score to make it 27-7 Rifle just six seconds into the fourth quarter.
Reuss tried to spark the Longhorns on their next possession, but an ill-advised throw down the left sideline fell into the waiting hands of Rifle junior corner Kevin Tlaxcala for the interception, all but ending any hope of a Basalt comeback on the night.
The Bears would put the game away for good as Vines picked up chunks of yardage on the final drive, recording runs of 13, 31 and 16 yards before Ellis scored for the second time on the night from 1 yard out to make it 34-7 Rifle with just 3:33 remaining.
Torres and Reuss would hook up for a 57-yard catch-and-run just under a minute later to cap off the scoring in the Week 0 matchup.
With the win, Rifle improves to 1-0 on the season, while Basalt drops to 0-1.
The Bears will travel to Montrose next Friday for a matchup with the Indians, while Basalt will host Grand Valley on Sept. 8 after next week’s bye.
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After mixed messages and increased pressure from coaches, players and parents, CHSAA said Wednesday the fall football season was back on, should schools choose to take part.