As has often been the case in the 3A Western Slope League for football, the league title will again come down to a game between Rifle and Palisade. This year that deciding game takes place in the final regular season game of the year tomorrow at Bears Stadium in Rifle at 7 p.m.
Both the Bulldogs and the Bears come into the game with 4-0 league records. Rifle is 8-1 overall and Palisade is 7-2. In the state RPI (ratings percentage index) rankings which are used primarily to seed teams for the playoffs, Rifle currently is 8th and Palisade is 9th. The winner of tomorrow night’s game will not only win the league title, but will also likely set themselves up for a first round home playoff game next week. The loser of the game will likely have to go on the road in the first round.
The two teams facing off on Friday have a lot more in common than just records. Both teams have terrific running games with the occasional quick-strike, high-yield pass mixed in. Rifle averages 354 yards per game on the ground with 39 touchdowns while Palisade averages 314 with 33 touchdowns. In the air, Rifle has completed only 23 passes on the season, but those passes have gone for 672 yards or 29.2 yards per catch and six touchdowns. Palisade has completed 41 passes with a 16.4 yards per reception average.
Leading the Bears’ attack is junior running back Tanner Vines who has rushed for 1,623 yards on the season. Senior Camron Shepherd has added another 556 yards and junior sprinter Joel Lopez has gone for 479 yards for Rifle. For the Bulldogs, they have been led by senior Terrance Williams with 1,029 yards. Quarterback Cameron Tucker also has rushed for 652 yards and speedy senior Austin Bernal has raced for 613 yards.
The game will likely come down to which defense has the most success at stopping the others’ rushing attack and perhaps creating turnovers. Rifle has intercepted 12 passes this season while recovering two fumbles. Palisade has six interceptions and six fumble recoveries.