They had tried the play earlier in the game, but to no avail. Without many options facing fourth-and-33 and with the season hanging in the balance, it seemed as good a spot as any to give it another go.
Basalt High School senior receiver Jackson Rapaport took the reverse from junior quarterback Matty Gillis before heaving it toward the end zone and into the arms of junior receiver Rulbe Alvarado in a play that was nothing short of a miracle for the Longhorns.
“To be honest with you, sometimes you get lucky and that was one of those plays,” Basalt football coach Carl Frerichs said. “Rulbe is a heck of a player. … He’s a special kid. Everyone wants to get him more involved because he’s so fast and so athletic. I’m so happy for him.”
Paired with his crucial kickoff return for a touchdown, Alvarado stole the show on Saturday when No. 9 seed Basalt pulled out a stunner over No. 1 Rifle, winning 21-14 in double overtime on the BHS field. The Class 2A state quarterfinal win sends the Longhorns (9-2) to the 2A semifinals for the first time in program history and ends Rifle’s season with a lone loss.
The Bears (10-1) had beaten Basalt as recently as Oct. 25, winning 21-9 that day on the BHS field after trailing early in the fourth quarter. Saturday’s playoff rematch had a lot of similarities with the regular-season matchup.
“I don’t know if I had any expectations, except I knew our kids would play with their heart and do anything we asked them to do and that’s exactly what they did,” Rifle coach Damon Wells said. “That’s one of the negative byproducts of making the playoffs, is you know for 15 out of the 16 teams it’s going to end in heartbreak. One thing we talked about is it certainly doesn’t feel any better the later you lose in the playoffs, but it sure is a tough one today.”
Rifle led Saturday’s game 14-6 early in the third quarter after standout running back Levi Warfel broke loose for a 62-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-1. With momentum back in favor of the visiting team, Alvarado responded by taking the ensuing kickoff back for a touchdown. He even caught the 2-point conversion that tied the game at 14-14 with more than nine minutes still to play in the third quarter.
“I’ve been wanting one all season. I just got to give credit to the blockers for helping me get it to the end zone,” Alvarado said of his kickoff return. “We just knew it was going to be a fight the whole way through. I felt like we were kind of losing hope, but I’m just glad we stuck with each other and went all the way.”
Rifle also led 7-0 after a 1-yard run by Warfel capped off the team’s first possession. A defensive stop on fourth-and-short to open the second quarter swung momentum in favor of Basalt, and it was a rare Rifle fumble that set up the Longhorns deep in enemy territory.
A few plays later, Gillis dropped a dime into Rapaport from 22 yards out for a touchdown. A botched extra-point try kept Rifle up 7-6 heading into the locker room, which was the exact same halftime score when the teams played Oct. 25 in Basalt.
“Rifle, they were saying, ‘Make them regret Round 2.’ And we weren’t going to let that happen. We weren’t going to let the rebuilding year chip keep getting bigger on our shoulder,” Gillis said. “After we played last week, all of us were all in every single day, every single play.”
The game went to overtime tied 14-14, Alvarado’s kickoff return for a touchdown early in the third quarter proving to be the final points of regulation. Rifle had the first possession in overtime, but the BHS defense made a stop on fourth down to give its offense a shot at the win. Needing only a field goal to end it, Gillis had a third-down pass intercepted by Rifle’s Carter Pressler in the end zone that forced a second overtime.
The end of that play resulted in a personal foul on Basalt for a late hit, meaning BHS had to start the second overtime period at the 25-yard-line instead of the 10. That’s when, on fourth down with a third of the football field in front of them, Rapaport launched his prayer to Alvarado that gave BHS the 21-14 lead.
The Bears still had a chance to tie, but they also had to start from the 25 after getting called for roughing the kicker on Basalt’s extra-point try, which was good. Facing fourth-and-25, Rifle’s prayer went unanswered, Rapaport jumping up to snag the pass near the goal line to end the game.
“Last time we thought we didn’t fulfill what we should have done. I’m glad we had another opportunity to show everyone we could do it,” Alvarado said of finally beating Rifle. “We knew that if Jackson got a good pass I just had to run and catch it. And we believed in each other and I think that helped us get the win.”
Unlike Rifle, which has won three state championships, including the 3A title back in 2004, Basalt has never been this far in the playoffs, at least in 2A. The Longhorns lost in the quarters each of the past two seasons, the only times they’ve ever been among the final eight teams before this fall.
“Honestly, I’m speechless,” Rapaport said. “After the game I was in tears. I wasn’t even sure if I have really accepted it’s happened. It’s unbelievable, really.”
And, believe it or not, despite being only the No. 9 seed in the 16-team playoff bracket, the Longhorns will host their 2A semifinal game against No. 4 seed Delta, yet another Western Slope League foe. The Panthers beat No. 5 Faith Christian on Saturday, winning 37-35, to advance. With Basalt and Delta both having been the home team in the quarterfinals, the semifinal host was decided by a simple coin flip won by the Longhorns.
That semifinal game is tentatively scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday in Basalt. The Longhorns’ only other defeat this season came Oct. 18 at Delta, a 35-6 loss. Delta’s only loss this season came Oct. 11 at Rifle, 47-29.
“That was probably the one game all season where I just wasn’t pleased with the way we coached or played, so I think we can regroup and do some things better,” Frerichs said of the first game with Delta. “But they are a heck of a team. There is a reason why they are in the semifinals. We’re going to have to get to the drawing board and make sure we are ready to go on Saturday.”
The other semifinal game will be between No. 2 Sterling and No. 3 Resurrection Christian. The 2A state championship game is scheduled for Nov. 30 in Pueblo.