FOOTBALL: 3A CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW
Game Available on www.chsaa.tv
Two very good defenses and a clash of offensive strategies take the field on Saturday when unbeaten Rifle (13-0) faces Silver Creek (11-2) for the Class 3A state football championship. The Bears feature the best running game in the division operating from a double wing set while Silver Creek prefers a four wide receiver formation but stresses balance between running and passing.
In reaching the state finals for the first time since 2005, Rifle has been challenged only once all season and that came in their second round win over Roosevelt (48-34). Leading 42-34 late in the fourth quarter, the Bears did not seal the win until Ryan Moeller intercepted a Roughrider pass returning it 85 yards for the game clinching score. Rifle did not have much suspense in the state semifinals rolling past Pueblo East 56-6 after leading 35-0 at intermission.
Moeller has received virtually all of the headlines for Rifle this season and after rushing for 2,857 yards and 41 touchdowns thus far, that attention is well deserved. But the Bears are far from a one man offense. Kellen Leigh also surpassed the 1,000 yard mark on the ground for the season after picking up 102 yards on just five carries against Pueblo East last week. He also took a pass 74 yards for a score to again display his big play potential especially.
Overall, the powerful Rifle running game has generated 4,747 yards (365 yards per game) and 64 touchdowns this season. Despite those numbers, the statistics that jumps out the most is the 9.7 yards per carry as a team. Moeller is averaging 11.8 yards an attempt but Leigh also produces nearly ten yards a carry as well. If the Bears continue to gain big chunks on the ground this Saturday, the championship game will be a long day for the Raptors defense. The Bears have also punted only 14 times this season which is another measure of how prolific their offense has been this season.
Led by Andre Apodaca, the Silver Creek defense is giving up only 12 points a game. The junior linebacker tops the defense with 144 tackles in 13 games which is 57 better than the second leading tackler (Anthony Emberly). Jared Jacobsen (80 tackles) and Colin Gibbs (79 tackles) provide depth for the defense which has forced 35 turnovers on the season including 24 interceptions. Ross Fitzgerald has seven of the picks. Jeremy Metivier leads the Raptors with 7.5 sacks but may not get an opportunity to add to that total against the run-dominated Bears.
As mentioned, the Raptor offense features four wide receivers on the field on virtually every snap but they run the ball equally effective as they throw it. The team averages 197 yards through the air but also earns 156 yards in the running game. Josh Quiroz is the main ball carrier with 1,231 yards and 11 touchdowns. The rest of the team has combined for 791 yards.
The key to getting Silver Creek back into the finals for a second straight year has been the play of quarterback Ben Sjobakken. Succeeding the talented Austin Apodaca at quarterback, the junior has done a tremendous job of avoiding turnovers (only 2 interceptions) while throwing for 2,452 yards and 24 touchdowns. Sjobakken also makes it’s difficult for opposing defenses by sharing the ball in the passing game. The Raptor offense has four receivers with at least 33 catches and three of them have reached the end zone at least six times. Leading the list is Trey Fleming with 57 catches and six scores but he’s followed closely by Zane Lindsey (49 receptions / 7 TD’s), Brock Ricks (40 catches / 3 scores) and Eric Machmueller (33 catches / 6 TD’s).
Trying to stay with those receivers will be a Rifle defense responsible for 18 interceptions on the season. Moeller has a team best eight but Aaron Wagler has also collected three. Cody Beauford tops the tackle sheet with 122 stops with Austin Shepard next in line with 70. Zach Bare has four sacks for a team with 19 on the season. That group will also be critical. If they can get pressure on Sjobakken, it will greatly help the secondary in their attempts to stay with the talented receiving group.
The two finalists have common opponents in Conifer and Roosevelt. Both teams stopped Conifer and each allowed only seven points in the process. The Bears won 38-7 at mid-season while the Raptors ended the Lobos season (24-7) in the semifinals last week. They led that game 10-7 at halftime before taking control in the second half. The Raptors defense surrendered only 154 yards of offense to the Lobos. Rifle’s defense put in almost the same effort giving up 155 yards in their win over Conifer.
We mentioned the Bears struggle against Roosevelt in the state quarterfinals two weeks ago. The Roughriders scored 34 points against a defense that has surrendered only 41 total points in the remaining 12 games. Rifle however had their best day throwing the football in that win as Adam Rice completed seven of eight attempts for 202 yards and two scores. The Bears defense however allowed 559 yards of offense in their worst showing of the season.
Silver Creek however came up short against Roosevelt (21-14) in a game that decided the Tri Valley championship. Roosevelt was able to gain 221 yards rushing against the Silver Creek defense and limited the Raptor offense to 240 yards on the night.
Playoff wise, Silver Creek is in the state finals for the second straight year and second time in school history. Six of their seven post-season wins in school history have come in the past two years. Rifle has two previous outright championships and has shared a third. Each win has involved a low scoring one point win. They beat Sterling (7-6) to win the 2004 title and edged Yuma (8-7) in 1973. The shared title took place in 1961 when they tied Louisville (6-6). Second place finishes occurred in 2005 (lost to Florence 35-21) and 1952 (lost to Fort Morgan 21-19).
Kickoff for Saturday’s championship game is set for 1:00pm from Legacy Stadium on the campus of Cherokee Trail High School. A live video stream of the game will be available on www.chsaa.tv and the game can also be heard locally in the Rifle area on KMTS and at www.kmts.com.