Panthers run gauntlet
M-CHS football team can’t tame No. 1 3A Bears at Panther Stadium
Rifle football is ranked No. 1 for a reason.
The Bears displayed their lofty ranking on the ground and through the air at Panther Stadium on Friday night.
Rifle’s rushing attack of Ryan Moeller and Kellin Leigh combined for 421 yards, and the pitch and catch tandem of Adam Rice and Aaron Wagler provided offensive fireworks.
The Panthers moved the ball in spurts, but couldn’t slow down the Bears offensive attack of 528 yards.
Rifle took care of business and overwhelmed Montezuma-Cortez High School, 62-6.
“We were proud of our kids and their effort. But hats off to Cortez. I thought they played hard until the very end,” Bears coach Damon Wells said. “I thought their staff had a really nice plan. They have an impressive team.”
For M-CHS (1-3, 1-2 3A Western Slope League), the toughest part of its schedule is complete. The Panthers played the two best 3A teams in Colorado back-to-back weeks.
“It’s over now. We ran the gauntlet and now we’re going to move on. Those are two very tough teams,” said Panthers coach Casey Coulter about Palisade (No. 2; Denver Post and Coloradopreps.com) and Rifle.
The Panthers received the ball, but punted on their opening possession.
Rifle (4-0, 3-0 3A WSL) took over at its own 24-yard line and marched down the field behind Moeller and Leigh. Moeller rushed for 26 yards on the drive and Leigh recorded 33 yards, capping things with a 2-yard touchdown run. Omar Lerma’s point-after attempt was good to make it 7-0.
On the following M-CHS drive, Panthers quarterback Jonathan Walck hit Alex Lopez for a long first down play, but Lopez was stripped and Rifle recovered at its 38.
The Bears had a neutral-zone infraction and then went 67 yards in four plays for their next score. Moeller had runs of 23 and 10 yards before his 6-yard TD scamper. Lerma’s PAT made it 14-0. Rifle converted a Leigh interception into seven more points before the end of the first quarter to lead 21-0.
Moeller mauled the Panthers in the second quarter with TD runs of 20 and 4 yards. Sandwiched between Moeller’s scores was a TD toss from Rice to Wagler on a 1-yard fade route to up the lead at 35-0.
But M-CHS would get on the board.
On third-and-9 from his own 23, Walck heaved a bomb to a wide-open Dakota Goosen. The wide receiver rumbled with the rock down the left sideline to the Bears’ 29. A roughing-the-passer penalty tacked on 15 more yards, which set up the Panthers at the 14 and had the home fans out of their seats.
Two plays later, Walck found Goosen over the middle for a 14-yard TD pass. Lopez’s extra point sailed left, but the Panthers had some life down 35-6.
However, Moeller swung the momentum back to the Bears with his 4-yard TD run with 31 seconds remaining in the half to give Rifle a 42-6 advantage at the break.
The stout senior picked up where he left off to open the third quarter. Moeller broke tackles — and ankles — with a 47-yard scoring run just two plays into the second half. Rifle led 48-6 and Moeller sat the rest of the evening, finishing with a blazing 238 yards rushing on 15 carries.
“Everything was just clicking,” Moeller said. “We got here and we knew what we needed to do. Everyone who’s in there is in there for a reason. Everyone’s doing their job, everyone’s performed the best, everyone has to do what they need to do. It’s working. Everyone’s doing their assignments and that’s what you have to do to win.”
A continuous running clock ensued by Colorado High School Activities Association rule because of the 40 point-or-greater margin.
Bailey Hoffneister ran in a 7-yard TD before the end of the third to up the Bears lead at 55-6.
Lee Harrison intercepted backup Panthers’ quarterback Tallon Ralstin and returned it 49 yards for a TD in the fourth quarter for the final margin.
“We’re young, inexperienced and it shows,” Coulter said. “Our kids, they haven’t figured it out yet. When they do, it’s going to be fun.”
Rifle saw Leigh record 183 yards rushing on 13 carries with an interception on defense. Rice threw 8-of-10 for 107 yards and a TD toss, while top target Wagler hauled in seven balls for 86 yards and a TD.
Walck passed 9-of-14 for 163 yards with a TD and interception, while recovering a fumble on defense. Goosen caught two passes for 66 yards and a score, and tallied a game-high 14 tackles. Senior running back Trenton Gustafson carried six times for 40 tough yards and administered 10 tackles.
“I think we came out too flat. We were ready, we just came out flat; not pumped up,” Gustafson said. “I think we need to become more of a brotherhood and come together more. I think we played too much individually.”
M-CHS will trek to Steamboat Springs (1-3, 0-3 3A WSL) and play Saturday at 11 a.m., after what was a tough two-game stretch.
“We’ll breakdown film and practice. Steamboat is a beatable team and these kids know that. They don’t have a ranking, so hopefully it’s not in their heads,” Coulter said. “We better play like we know how.”