Rifle For the first 20 minutes or so of Saturday's boys soccer game against Steamboat Springs, Rifle looked like the better team.
The ball loitered in the Bears' attacking zone. All layers of Rifle's side were regularly quickest to the ball. And the Bears scored first - within the first two minutes of the game, no less.
But Steamboat Springs eventually would show why they haven't lost a game this year, reversing the sway of the possession battle in knocking off the Bears, 3-1, on a sunny Saturday in Rifle.
It all started well enough for the Bears.
It didn't take long for Uriel Rodriguez to give the home crowd something to cheer about, taking a pass from teammate Pablo Salgado and beating Sailors keeper Connor Birch for a one-on-one strike just 1 minute and 46 seconds into the matinee affair.
Rifle, with an early lead and a spark of life, went on to control play a while longer - that is, until Steamboat's Tony Reande intervened. With 16:18 left until halftime, Reande pounced on a loose ball that teammate Andrew White had run deep into the Bears' territory.
Amid a logjam of red and white jerseys in the heart of the 18-yard box, Reande found a seam and rifled a shot past Bear keeper Anthony Bracamontes.
"That was what got us started," said Reande, a junior.
Josh Fix flashed a little marksmanship to put the Sailors ahead with 4:35 remaining in the half, directing a long strike off the fingertips of Bracamontes and into the net from deep in the right corner.
"That's not been a trend for us this season, where we start slow," said Steamboat coach Rob Bohlmann. "We just had a lack of concentration. We didn't have proper placement. Rifle's got a really good group. They're quick and scrappy. We can't just walk on the field and expect things to happen. We have to be ready to play."
Although the Sailors may not have appeared ready to play early in the game, they succeeded in ratcheting things as the day wore on.
Shots on goal came in droves in the second half before the Sailors' Daniel Wright and Enrique Lopez paired up to deliver the final blow.
With just more than two minutes left in the contest, Lopez possessed the ball deep in Rifle territory and sent a short pass Wright's way to set up an easy goal. Bohlmann, whose team improved to 4-0 overall and to 2-0 in the 4A Western Slope League, knew that insurance score would come sooner or later.
"The second half, we were back in the flow of the game," said Bohlmann, whose team put 10 shots on goal in the half. "We spent a big chunk of that second half in our attacking zone. The feeling wasn't if, but more of a when, we'd get that third goal to fall."
Rifle and first-year coach Ryan Mahler could only lament the fade of his squad's aggressive start.
"Oh man, we caught them," said a frustrated Mahler of the Bears' early goal before turning his attention to the game's later developments. "You know, that's the way it goes sometimes. The opportunities were there. We just didn't finish. ... Steamboat had it locked up in their half of the field in the second half."
The Bears (1-2 overall, 1-1 in the 4A WSL) travel to Palisade Tuesday. Steamboat plays at home against Moffat County.