Our history

Rifle has earned the right to play in six State Championship games since 2004. The fall 2023 season proved successful for new head coach Ty Leyba. The Bears won a league championship and advanced to their 9th state championship game, losing to Delta. In the Spring 2021 season (teams played in the spring due to the Covid-19 pandemic) the Bears coached by Todd Casebier rebounded from an up and down regular season to take the State Championship 35-34 over The Classical Academy.  In 2014, playing under longtime head coach Damon Wells, Rifle qualified for its fourth state championship game in 11 seasons. The Bears lost to Pueblo East in the title game. In 2012 the Bears set a team record with 13 consecutive wins. The Bears qualified for the state finals where they were upset by Silver Creek. Despite finishing fourth in the Western Slope Conference in 2004 and 2005, the Bears appeared in two consecutive 3A state championship games, and brought home the state title in 2004 under longtime head coach Darrel Gorham. The Bears also won the state title in 1973 and 1961, led by head coach Gordon Cooper.

Historically, the Bears have been one of the most successful teams in Colorado’s middle football divisions. Rifle is currently coached by 2016 alumnus, Ty Leyba. Leyba coached the Bears to a league championship and a state championship berth in his first year at the helm in 2023. The Bears were the 3A (Spring 2021) State Champions following up on two back to back 2A West Slope League Championships.  Rifle also was four-time 3A West Slope League Champions from 2011 – 2014. Rifle won the league title outright in 2011 and 2012, shared it with Palisade in 2013 and again won it outright in 2014. Rifle enjoyed a stretch of 13 consecutive playoff appearances, a state championship, a state runner-up, and five league championships between 1995 and 2007.

Coach Damon Wells in 2018

Highlights of the first 100 wins for Coach Damon Wells

Damon Wells

Damon Wells started his coaching career at RHS in 2000.  Fresh off a State Championship win in 2004, Wells moved up from his Defensive Coordinator position to the head coach role in 2005.  Coach Wells returned the Bears to the State Championship game in 2005. After playoff appearances in 2006 and 2007, Wells stepped down from coaching for a year. He returned as Defensive Coordinator in 2009 and in 2010 he agreed to again be the head coach for the Bears. Wells then posted four consecutive first-place league finishes, with two state championship game appearances.

In 2018, the Bears dropped from 3A to 2A and the Bears won the 2A West Slope League.  The team accomplished the same feat in the 2019 season.  These accomplishments gave Wells his 7th overall league championship and his teams made playoff appearances in twelve of his thirteen seasons as head coach.  As both a head coach and an assistant, Coach Wells has coached the Bears in four state championship games. Wells won his 100th game as Rifle’s head coach in 2018 and achieved a 118-36 overall record.  He won multiple League Coach of the Year Honors and was twice named the Denver Broncos Football Coach of the Week.

Coach Wells took the head coach position at Jefferson City High School in Missouri in 2021, reaching the Missouri state semi-finals in 2023.

Darrel Gorham

The Bears have been perennial playoff contenders since 1992 and much of that success is due to the foundation laid by Darrel Gorham.  Gorham was the head coach at Rifle High School for fourteen seasons.  Coach Gorham took over a program with zero playoff appearances in the previous seven seasons.  He immediately went to work building the program returned the Bears to the post season in his second year.  After eleven playoff appearances, four league championships and a finally state championship in 2004, Coach Gorham took the reins at Highlands Ranch High School for the 2005 season.

On December 4, 2004 in front of a capacity crowd, the Rifle Bears capped off one of the most remarkable playoff run in the school’s history by beating Sterling 7-6 to win the State Championship.  The Bears had entered the playoffs as the lowest seed and ere the fourth and final playoff contender out of the 3A Western Slope League.  A road victory over the 2003 State Runner-Up Florence Huskies gave the Bears a huge confidence boost.  The Huskies had entered the playoffs as the #1 seed out of the Southern Conference and were serious title contenders.

Rifle continued to surprise by rolling over Conifer at Bears Stadium.  The Lobos entered the post-season as the #2 seed out fo the Metro Conference but never led in the contest as the Bears rolled to a 38-22 victory.

The next week Rifle drew the Niwot Cougars.  Niwot was the #1 seed out of the Tri-Valley Conference and was a perfect 12-0 on the season.  The outsized Bears built an early lead and hung on for a 23-20 win, setting up the Finals match-up with Sterling.

The state final was preceded by a week of snow and freezing temperatures in Rifle.  The Bears Stadium turf was frozen solid and Rifle struggled to mover the ball offensively.  The game was decided on a missed extra point by Sterling in the opening moments of the game.  The Bears scored their lone touchdown on a long pass just before half and held on for the win.

Coach Gorham in 2004
2004 Team Photo

Gordon Cooper

Gordon Cooper was another legendary Bears head coach. He started his decades-long career at Rifle High School in 1956. Cooper, along with assistant Jack Smith, was at the helm for the Bears’ 1973 and 1961 runs to the state championship and also led the Bears to State Baseball championships in the 1980s. Cooper also coached the Bears to a track state title in 1963.  Cooper was a stand out wide receiver for the University of Denver Pioneers and was inducted into their athletics hall of fame in 2010. Cooper also played in the NFL for the Detroit Lions.

Coach Cooper is the only coach in Rifle history to win two state football titles.  His 24 year tenure with Rifle football, from 1956 through the 1979 season is the longest of any Rifle head coach.

1961 Team Photo
Daily Sentinel Article from 1974


Rifle is League Champion and advances to the State Championship Game
In Ty Leyba's return to the team, this time as head coach, the Bears won the 2023 league championship and rolled through the playoff to the state championship game. The Bears came up short to the Delta Panthers and took home the 2nd place trophy. It was an impressive head coaching debut for Ty Leyba, who was an integral player for Rifle in the 2014 run to the state championship game.
Rifle Advances to the Second Round
Under head coach, and former player, Ryan Whittington, the Bears beat Florence in the first round and lost to Cortez in the second round. It marked the Bears return to the playoffs after missing the postseason in the fall of 2021.
2021 (Spring)
Rifle Wins the 3A State Championship
In a year of turmoil and change, the Rifle Bears found a way to win it all. Todd Casebier took the helm of a Rifle team that had graduated more than 20 seniors the year before and returned only two starters. The Covid-19 pandemic made for the strange reality of spring football. The season started out bumpy with losses to league foes Basalt and Glenwood Springs but the Bears got better every week. In the playoffs Rifle beat The Academy and then prevailed in an overtime thriller with longtime rival Glenwood Springs to earn their 8th trip in program history to the State Championship game. Rifle prevailed over The Classical Academy in a nail biter, 35-34 to bring home their 4th State Championship trophy.
No Fall Football
The Covid-19 Pandemic kept the Bears from playing in the fall of 2020, the first time football was not played in the fall at Rifle High School in at least 80 years.
Bears Make Undefeated Run Through Regular Season
The 2019 Rifle Bears earned a spot amongst the most successful Rifle squads of all time. Rifle won a second straight 2A West Slope League Championship in undefeated fashion, running the table through 9 games. Once again Rifle's run game was dominant and its defense was stifling. The 2019 Bears outscored opponents 424-119. The Bears beat Englewood 48-15 in the 1st round of playoffs but suffered a rash of injuries in the process. Rifle then stumbled against league rival Basalt in the 2nd round, as the Longhorns scored on a Hail Mary in a double-overtime heartbreaker.
Bears Drop to 2A and Win West Slope League
Rifle dropped from 3A to 2A and overcame a devastating series of season-ending injuries to win the 2A West Slope League and shut-out Eaton in the first-round of the playoffs. The Bears lost in the quarterfinals to Resurrection Christian 21-14.
Rifle Defeats Evergreen in the First Round
The Bears finished second to Palisade in the Western Slope Conference and then travelled to Evergreen in the first round of the playoffs and came away with a 37-10 win. Rifle lost to the 2017 state champion Palmer Ridge Bears in the second round of the playoffs.
Rifle Wins the League and Advances to State Championship
The Bears won a fourth straight West Slope League title after posting a 9-1 regular season. Posting a 6-1 league record in 2014, Rifle improved its 3A West Slope League dominating record to 28-2 over the last four seasons. The seniors of 2014 never had a season without a league title. Rifle bulled its way into the state finals by outscoring their first three playoff opponents 111-20. In the finals, the Bears fought Pueblo East to a 14-14 tie for three quarters, but the Eagles pulled away in the 4th quarter for the championship.
Rifle Wins Third League Championship in a Row
The Bears won their third straight West Slope League title, sharing the honor with Palisade. Rifle lost to the Bulldogs on a last minute touchdown pass and also dropped a non-conference match-up with Conifer. The loss to Palisade ended Rifle’s 24 consecutive West Slope League win streak. But the Bears won their other 8 regular season match-ups including an emphatic 52-27 win over an eventual state semi-finalist Delta Panthers team. Delta had beaten Palisade earlier in the season, allowing the Bears to claim a share of the League Championship with the Bulldogs. In the postseason, the Bears went on the road and lost a close game in the first round of the playoffs to eventual state champion Coronado High School, 34-31.
The Bears Ride an Undefeated Season Into the State Championship Game
The class of 2013 cemented their legacy in Rifle football history by winning 13 games, a second consecutive league title and making it all the way to the 3A state finals. Unfortunately the Bears fell short to Silver Creek 32-15 in the state title game. The 2013 seniors achieved a record of 24-2 in their last two years of playing for the Bears. Ryan Moeller rushed for 3002 yards on the year with 50 touchdowns.
The Bears win First League Title Since 2006
Undersized but speedy, the Bears ran the table in the always tough Western Slope League and posted a perfect 10-0 record on the year. Junior Ryan Moeller rushed for more than 2000 yards on the season and led the state in rushing yards as the Bears earned their first league championship since 2002. In the playoffs, Rifle beat the Roosevelt Roughriders 14-7 before falling to the Windsor Wizards 36-15 on a frozen field at Bears Stadium. The small senior class of 2011/2012 was one for the history books. They experienced a four win season as sophomores only to turn it all around and go undefeated as seniors, putting Rifle squarely back on the Colorado prep football map.
Rifle Wins First League Championship in 4 Years
Rifle won its first League Championship in 4 years, sharing the title with Steamboat Springs. Rifle beat Elizabeth in the first round of the playoffs before falling to eventual state champion Alamosa in the second round.
Rifle Makes 2nd Straight State Championship Game
The Bears finished the season in 4th place in the Western Slope Conference but knocked off the #1 ranked and unbeaten Northridge Grizzlies in the first round of the playoffs. Wins over Elizabeth and Steamboat Springs earned the Bears their second straight state championship berth. The Bears lost the game to Florence at Bears Stadium.
The Bears Win the 3A State Championship
The Bears finished the season in 4th place in the Western Slope Conference but knocked off the #1 seeded Florence Huskies in the first round of the playoffs. After a home win over Conifer, the Bears pulled off what may be the biggest upset in school history by beating unbeaten and #1 ranked Niwot in the state semi-finals. This set up a showdown with Sterling for the State Championship. The Bears won an extremely close game 7-6 for their third state championship.
Rifle Has a Perfect Regular Season
The Bears ran the table through the regular season, winning the Western Slope league in an overtime thriller with Palisade in Grand Junction. The #1 ranked Bears were upset in the first round of the playoffs by Fountain-Fort Carson in one of the toughest defeats in school history.
The Bears Win a League Title
The Bears won the Western Slope League Championship losing just one regular season game to eventual state champion Fort Morgan. The first round was unkind to the Bears as they were upset by the Valley Vikings on their home field.
Rifle Beats Ralston Valley to Advance to the State Quarterfinals
Rifle made the playoffs for the 6th consecutive year and beat Ralston Valley 47-6 in the first round. The Bears lost to Woodland Park by a touchdown in the quarterfinals.
Rifle Wins Second Consecutive League Title
The Bears won the Western Slope League Championship and went on to beat Windsor in the first round of the playoffs. In the second round the Bears travelled to Alamosa and were defeated by the Mean Moose 20-0.
The Bears Secure First League Title in 20 Years
The Bears won their first Western Slope league championship in two decades. After beating D’Evelyn in the first round of the playoffs the Bears lost a hard-fought battle with Brush at Bears Stadium.
Rifle Breaks Long Streak of No Playoff Appearances
The Bears qualified for the playoffs for the first time in 12 years in Darrel Gorham’s second year as head coach. The Bears lost a close game to Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado Springs in the opening round of the playoffs.
Rifle Shares the NWL Title, Makes the Playoffs
Coach Jack Smith's 1983 team finished tied atop the Northwest League with Roaring Fork with a 7-2 record. The Bears made the playoffs but lost to Delta 31-14.
The Bears Make the Semi-Finals
The Bears had a great regular season but lost to Salida in the semi-finals after Russell Hiner was injured in a playoff win over Las Animas. The loss broke the Bears’ 22 game winning streak.
Rifle Wins the State Championship
Behind the power running of star running back Russ Hiner, the Bears stormed their way into the state championship game. Against Yuma in the state championship game, quarterback Ray Hall hit Kirk Swallow on a 50-yard touchdown and Russ Hiner ran in the two-point conversion. Late in the game, the Bears stopped a Yuma drive with a strip, fumble-recovery and long return by Steve Odell. From there Rifle put the game away and won their second state championship over the Yuma Indians 8-6.
Rifle Wins the Northwestern League and Makes the State Semi-Finals
Gordon Cooper's Bears went 6-3 in the regular season and were undefeated in league play. Rifle beat Gunnison in the first round and went on to lose to Rocky Ford in the State Semi-Finals.
The Bears are State Champions for the First Time
Rifle won a share of its first state championship by tying Louisville 6 to 6. Louisville took a 6-0 lead by returning the 2nd half kickoff for a touchdown. The Bears answered with a 9 yard touchdown run by halfback Steve Chapman. Rifle made the extra point but a holding penalty backed them up and a second attempt from distance failed. Rifle threatened to score multiple times in the game but could not punch in the go-ahead touchdown. Louisville drove to the Rifle 8-yard line late in the game but multiple big defensive plays by John Urban kept Louisville from scoring. Overtime rules at the time called for a sudden death period in all preliminary games, but a tie score was final in the state championship game.
Rifle Wins the First Ever Northwestern League Title in Overtime, Goes on to State Semi-Finals
Rifle went to overtime with Glenwood to win the Northwestern title. The winner was determined by placing the ball at the 50 and giving each team alternating plays to move it down the field. At the end of 12 plays, Rifle had moved the ball further than Glenwood and therefore won the game and the league. The Bears went on the beat Olathe in the playoffs and then lost to Lamar in the Class A semi-finals.
Rifle Earns a Shot at a Title
Coach Karl Ulichny's Rifle squad went 10-2-1 on the season, winning the league and making it all the way to the state championship game. Rifle lost to Fort Morgan 21 to 14 at home.
Rifle Earns First Playoff Win
Rifle's first ever playoff win was definitely unique. Rifle and Delta ended regulation tied 0-0 and the tie-breaking rules at the time gave each team alternating plays from the 50 yard line to try to gain 10 yards. Rifle reached the 40 first and Delta's incomplete pass on the following down gave Rifle the win. Coach Karl Ulichny's Rifle squad lost to Alamosa in the 2nd round.
Rifle Earns First Playoff Berth
Coach Karl Ulichny's Rifle squad played Delta for the Western Slope A Championship and lost to the Panthers 20-7. Rifle scored after Wilbur Mikkelson picked off a Delta pass and followed it up with a touchdown reception by Ralph Long from Ted Ammerman.


Full Playoff History

(Updated 6/20/2023)

State Championships:

2021 (Spring), 2004, 1973, 1961 (co champs)

State Runners-up:

2023, 2014, 2012, 2005, 1952

Playoff Appearances:

2023 (Class 2A)

Beat Brush 21-14

Beat University 35-28

Beat Eaton 24-15

State Championship – Lost to Delta 54-14

2022 (Class 2A)

Beat Florence 14-7

Lost to Montezuma-Cortez 14-0

2021 (3A Spring Season Due to Covid-19 Pandemic)

1st Round – Beat The Academy 28-20

2nd Round – Beat Glenwood Springs 20-17 (OT)

State Championship – Beat The Classical Academy 35-34

2019 (Class 2A)

1st Round – Beat Englewood 48-15

2nd Round – Lost to Basalt 21 -14 (2OT)

2018 (Class 2A)

1st Round – Beat Eaton 27-0

2nd Round – Lost to Resurrection Christian 21-14

2017 (Class 3A)

1st Rd – Beat Evergreen 37-10

2nd Rd – Lost to Palmer Ridge 49-7 (2017 State Champion)

2016 (Class 3A)

1st Rd – Lost to Holy Family 47-0

2015 (Class 3A)

1st Rd – Lost to Discovery Canyon 43-20

2014 (Class 3A)

1st Rd – Beat Northridge 61-13

2nd Rd – Beat Roosevelt 15-0

3rd Rd – Beat Fort Morgan 35-7

Finals – Lost to Pueblo East (2014 State Champion) 30-14

2013 (Class 3A)

1st Rd – Lost to Coronado (2013 State Champion) 34-31

2012 (Class 3A)

1st Rd – Beat Erie 42-0

2nd Rd – Beat Roosevelt 48-34

3rd Rd – Beat Pueblo East 56-6

Finals – Lost to Silver Creek (2012 State Champion) 32-15

2011 (Class 3A)

1st Rd – Beat Roosevelt 14-7

2nd Rd – Lost to Windsor (2011 State Champion) 36-15

2007 (Class 3A)

1st Rd – Lost to Falcon (2007 State Runner-Up) 37-21

2006 (Class 3A)

1st Rd – Beat Elizabeth 35-10

2nd Rd – Lost to Alamosa (2006 State Champion) 34-26

2005 (Class 3A)

1st Rd – Beat Northridge 21-20

2nd Rd – Beat Elizabeth 35-14

3rd Rd – Beat Steamboat Springs 14-7

Finals – Lost to Florence (2005 State Champion) 35-14

2004 (Class 3A)

1st Rd – Beat Florence 28-20

2nd Rd – Beat Conifer 38-22

3rd Rd – Beat Niwot 23-20

Finals – Beat Sterling 7-6

Playoff Appearances (Cont.):

2003 (Class 3A)

1st Rd – Lost to Palisade (2003 State Champion) 34-15

2002 (Class 3A)

1st Rd – Lost to Ftn Ft Carson 20-6

2001 (Class 3A)

1st Rd – Lost to Valley 44-28

2000 (Class 3A)

1st Rd – Beat Ralston Valley 47-6

2nd Rd – Lost to Woodland Park 24-17

1999 (Class 3A)

1st Rd – Beat Windsor 19-13

2nd Rd – Lost to Alamosa 20-0

1998 (Class 3A)

1st Rd – Beat D’Evelyn 36-0

2nd Rd – Lost to Brush 33-28

1997 (Class 3A)

1st Rd – Lost to Cheyenne Mtn 49-13

1996 (Class 3A)

1st Rd – Lost to Englewood 13-12

1995 (Class 3A)

1st Rd – Lost to Alamosa 41-6

1992 (Class 4A)

1st Rd – Lost to Cheyenne Mtn 21-20

1983 (Class 2A)

1st Rd – Lost to Delta 31-13

1981 (Class 2A)

1st Rd – Lost to Olathe 19-9

1974 (Class 2A)

1st Rd – Beat Olathe 14-6

2nd Rd – Beat Las Animas 28-0

3rd Rd – Lost to Salida 28-12

1973 (Class 2A)

1st Rd – Beat Paonia 20-0

2nd Rd – Beat Monte Vista 19-0

Finals – Beat Yuma 8-7

1969 (Class 2A)

1st Rd – Beat Gunnison 27-19

2nd Rd – Lost to Rocky Ford 31-18

1961 (Class 1A)

1st Rd – Beat Lafayette 20-7

2nd Rd – Beat Paonia 7-0

Finals – Tied Louisville 6-6

1960 (Class 1A)

1st Rd – Lost to Nucla 26-12

1956 (Class 1A)

1st Rd – Lost to Gunnison 26-7

1955 (Class 1A)

1st Rd – Beat Olathe 32-7

2nd Rd – Lost to Lamar 24-0

1953 (Class 1A)

1st Rd – Lost to Montrose 9-7

1952 (Class 1A)

1st Rd – Beat Delta 7-0

2nd Rd – Beat Cortez 25-14

Finals – Lost to Fort Morgan 21-14

1949 (Class 1A)

1st Rd – Beat Delta 2-0

2nd Rd – Lost to Alamosa 19-14

1948 (Class 1A)

1st Rd – Lost to Delta 20-7