Basalt junior Taylor Hays hauls in a touchdown pass over Rifle's Sterling Cook in the fourth quarter of Friday night's homecoming contest. The late score brought Basalt to 27 points as the Bears spoiled the undefeated season with a 55-27 score. Rich Allen/Aspen Daily News

First-year coach Ty Leyba and the Rifle Bears went into Friday night’s matchup against the Basalt Longhorns aiming to break multiple streaks. Not only had Basalt opened the season with five wins out of five, the Longhorns had gone 16 straight regular season games without a loss. The Bears had not tasted victory against the Longhorns since 2019. 

Basalt Head Coach Carl Frerich was relishing a test from a strong Rifle squad. “They are one of the top teams in the league year in and year out,” he said before the game. With a 4-1 record and a number five ranking in Colorado’s 2A field, the Rifle Bears felt as though they could compete with the 5-0 Longhorns and their number two state ranking. All that, plus a dash of Homecoming spice, made this the must-watch game of the night across the Western Slope. 

On the second play of their opening drive, Rifle’s senior quarterback Logan Gross carried the football through Basalt’s secondary for what looked like an easy first down, before having the ball stripped from his hands. Basalt’s William Daniel recovered the fumble, much to the joy of the home crowd. The fumble would prove to be Gross’s final mistake of the game.

The Longhorns offense struggled to get into any sort of rhythm in their first drive, running into a strong defensive line and good coverage downfield from Rifle. The result was a three-and-out and a punt that pinned the Bears deep into their own territory. Even on his own five yard line, Gross looked comfortable, making a few good passes that got his team closer to Basalt territory. On second down and long, Gross once again broke through the line, beat a few linebackers, and waltzed into the endzone for a 61 yard touchdown run, breaking the deadlock and silencing the homecoming crowd in the process.

On their second drive, Basalt tried to establish their run game, but found the going difficult. Forced to pass on third and six, quarterback Noah Johnston got the ball into the air, but Gross, playing as free safety, intercepted. A few plays later, the Rifle play callers entrusted Sterling Cook with an end-around pass to a wide open Gross for a 58-yard touchdown to make the score 14-0.

Desperate to rev the crowd back to life, the Basalt Longhorns then marched down the field on a six play, 60-yard drive that saw Taylor Hays score on an end-around of his own. On the ensuing Rifle drive, the Longhorns defense looked as if it had summoned up a stop as they managed to get enough pressure on Gross to force an errant pass on third down. Up stepped junior running back Isaac Valencia, who plowed through Basalt’s defense for a 44-yard touchdown run. 

Down 21-7, the Longhorns needed yards just as much as they needed points, but their offensive line could not open up enough space for running back Will Tarallo to take advantage, and a sack on fourth down gave the ball back to Rifle near mid-field. On third and short Logan Gross broke through for another long touchdown run, this one for 50 yards. 

Back on offense, Basalt seemed to be establishing a run game through Tarallo, but the decision to pass on first down ended with another interception, this time by Rifle’s Ryland Lane. 

Down by three touchdowns and defending in their own territory, the Longhorns defense dug in. Good pressure and a few penalties forced the Bears to third down and 26, but Gross scrambled for 21 yards to bring up fourth and five. Much to the crowd’s dismay, the Longhorn defense then jumped offside, giving the Bears a first down and a chance for Valencia to run for another touchdown just before the end of the first half, which ended 35-7. 

In the second half the Longhorns stormed out of the gates, marching down the field in three plays, the last a Will Tarallo touchdown that brought the score to 35-14. That momentum was short lived, however, as Rifle countered with two more touchdown runs from Isaac Valencia on both sides of another turnover on downs from Basalt. 

The Longhorns bravely battled on, driving and scoring again through William Daniel, but on the ensuing kickoff, Gross took the ball 85 yards past all eleven Longhorns for his fourth and final touchdown of the game. Basalt managed to score once more before time expired, but it was too little too late and the game ended 55-27.

Afterward, Rifle quarterback Logan Gross was quick to share credit for the win with his teammates. “Our offensive line opened up some big gaps in the front line,” he said. “It was a great feeling.” 

Basalt Coach Carl Frerichs couldn’t help but admit how dominant the Rifle linemen were, either. “You’re not going to find a better offensive line in 2A football,” he said of Rifle seniors Efren Bustillos and Troy Mataia, whose efforts helped Rifle rush for 423 yards on the night.

Before the game, Basalt’s defense had given up a total of 42 points. For Rifle to come to Basalt’s home turf and score 55 is a massive statement to the league, and to the world of 2A Colorado football. 

The Bears will host the Aspen Skiers on Oct. 12 with the top spot in the 2A Western Slope league on the line, while the Longhorns will try to wash away the sour taste of the loss when they take on the Moffat County Bulldogs on Oct. 13 at home.