PUEBLO — The combatants in the Class 3A state championship football game – Rife (12-1) and Pueblo East (10-3) – have vastly different playoff histories.
Rifle is playing in its fourth state championship since 2004 and has captured two state crowns outright in 2004 (Class 3A), and 1973 (Class AA) and shared the Class A title with Louisville in 1961 when the teams tied 6-6.
The Bears have played in six state championship football games, losing in the Class A finals in 1952, 3A finals in 2005, and most recently the Class 3A finals in 2012 to Silver Creek 32-15. This year’s 3A state title game begins at 1 p.m. Saturday at Dutch Clark Stadium in Pueblo.
“Even though we have had the great fortune to be in four state championship games the last 11 years, to us we say every team has a one year lifespan,” Rifle coach Damon Wells said. “This state championship game (Saturday) is the time for this group of kids. We are preaching to them and trying to help them just embrace the experience and get every little detail of enjoyment out of it.”
East, meanwhile, is playing the school’s inaugural football state championship. The school opened in 1959. The Eagles best finish in football came in 2012 when they advanced to the Class 3A state semifinals before losing at home to Rifle 56-6.
“There’s a lot of excitement,” said veteran East coach David Ramirez about his team making its first state finals appearance. “It’s a big game and we have it here at Dutch Clark, but for us on the team we understand there is a job to do. It has been a focused week and we just want to be ready for Saturday.”
Rifle is paced offensively by senior quarterback Layton Stutsman (1,045 yards passing and 422 yards rushing). Bears’ running back Brock Clark, a fellow senior, has 1,364 yards rushing and scored 21 touchdowns.
Wells also pointed out seniors, linebacker/guard Austin Shepherd, linebacker/offensive lineman Alex Gould, and linebacker/tight end Cody Rice, plus junior center/defensive lineman Joe Kosht need to play well against the Eagles.
The Bears have won six games in a row after suffering their only loss of the season to Palisade (18-10) on Oct. 10.
The Eagles are riding seven-game winning streak, including playoff wins over Palisade (28-14) and top-ranked Discovery Canyon (39-21). East’s three losses are to rival Class 4A Pueblo South (34-20), Discovery Canyon (27-21) and 4A Pueblo West (27-21).
East’s offense is fueled by junior quarterback Danny Martin (1,870 yards passing and 1,217 yards rushing) and sophomore running back Bryson Torres (1,219 yards rushing). Senior Kevin Ribarich has a team-best 1,233 yards receiving.
“Rifle has system that works for them and they like to run the football and they are physical,” Ramirez said. “On offense we need to put together drives and those drives need to end with scores.”
The Eagles’ defense is spearheaded by linebackers, senior Sonny Arellano (77 total tackles) and junior Bruno DeRose (142 tackles).
“Sonny has done a great job all year long and he’s our defensive leader, but I also think we have leadership by committee,” Ramirez said. “We have a lot of great football players on our entire defensive unit.”
Arellano is thrilled to have the opportunity to clash for a state title against Rifle.
“We’ve put in a lot of hard work to get to this point,” the 6-foot, 210-pound Arellano said. “We just have to do our job. We all have individual assignments and we go 1-on-1 every play and if every person beats their person across the line scrimmage we will be victorious.”