Historically, the Bears have been one of the most successful teams in Colorado’s 3A football division, currently riding a streak of seven straight playoff appearances. The Bears were four-time 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 four league championships between 1995 and 2007.
In 2014, 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. The Bears also won the state title in 1973 and 1961.
The Western Slope League has proven to be one of the most competitive leagues in the state in the past 20 years. Palisade High School won 4 straight state championships between 1994 and 1997, won another in 2003, and have appeared in the semi-finals numerous times. Steamboat Springs was a state semi-finalist in 2003, and in 2006 won the League Championship (the Sailors tied with the Bears for that honor.). The Sailors were also league champions and a state finalist in 2009. Glenwood Springs won the state championship in 2008 and returned to the finals in 2010.
After winning the state championship in 2004, Head Coach Darrel Gorham took the reins at Highlands Ranch High School. Gorham had coached the Bears since 1990 and was responsible for building the program into a periennial playoff contender. He currently coaches at CSU-Pueblo.
Current Head Coach Damon Wells moved up from the Defensive Coordinator position to replace Gorham and 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, and has achieved a 98-33 overall record since taking over the program.
Gordon Cooper was another legendary Bears head coach. 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 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 Green Bay Packers.
34 Colorado State Playoff Appearances
31-31-1 All Time Playoff Record
16-10 in the Playoffs Since 2004
13 Consecutive State Playoff Appearances from 1995 to 2007
3 State Championships
4 State Runners-Up
- 2017 – 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.
- 2014 – 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.
- 2013 – 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.
- 2012 – 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.
- 2011 – 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.
- 2006 – 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.
- 2005 – 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.
- 2004 – 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.
- 2002 – 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.
- 2001 – 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.
- 1999 – 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.
- 1998 – 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.
- 1992 – 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.
- 1974 – 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.
- 1973 – Behind the power running of star running back Russell Hiner, the Bears won their second state championship over Yuma 8-6.
- 1961 – Rifle won a share of its first state championship by tying Louisville 6 to 6
- 1952 – The Bears made it all the way to the state championship game but lost to Fort Morgan 21 to 14 at home.