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Misfiring Rifles shoot selves in foot

Series of blunders key in loss to Hilltops

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Winnipeg Rifles running back Riley Coates eludes Saskatoon Hilltops tacklers at Investors Group Field on Sunday.

DAVID LIPNOWSKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Winnipeg Rifles running back Riley Coates eludes Saskatoon Hilltops tacklers at Investors Group Field on Sunday. Photo Store

The Winnipeg Rifles' worst enemy might be themselves. At least that's what head coach Ryan Karhut believes.

Karhut watched his team sink to 1-3 courtesy of a 38-17 loss to the Saskatoon Hilltops at Investors Group Field on Sunday.

"We can't beat them when we're constantly making mistakes and letting all of the little details unravel," he said. "Too many mistakes like that add up against a good team and they just lean on you. It doesn't take too much for it to fall over."

The Rifles opened the game with passion, but it fizzled. Winnipeg scored on their first drive of the game after a pass interference call, which put the Rifles on the Hilltops' one-yard line. Running back Riley Coates hit the end zone on the next play. He would score the only other Rifles touchdown in the third quarter in similar fashion; after a pass interference call on the Hilltops, Coates ran the ball in from three-yards out.

"Our team just didn't put up the effort to win," Coates said. "We left a lot of points out there. We could have easily gotten up 10-0, maybe 14-0, at the start of the game and then they just put up a good effort, battled back and made things happen."

The Rifles did have the opportunity to add to the lead in the first quarter. Quarterback Ryan Marsch completed back-to-back passes to wide receivers Julian Banares and Kurt Goodrich to get within striking distance. But the Hilltops defence held and kicker Brad Mikoluff missed a 30-yard field goal attempt.

The Rifles led the defending CJFL champions after one quarter, but the floodgates were soon to open and Winnipeg couldn't stem the flow.

Saskatoon added a field goal early in the second quarter. On their next drive receiver Evan Kopchynski just failed to snag a deep pass from quarterback Matt Karpinka. Determined to make things happen, Karpinka tossed the ball in Kopchynski's direction on the next play and connected for a 53-yard touchdown.

Then came a game-changer. Down 10-7, the Rifles were lining up to receive a punt when they were called for an illegal substitution. The Hilltops garnered 10 yards -- a first down --and eventually marched down the field to score a touchdown on a one-yard scamper by running back Nolan Graham.

"That in itself was a big play, and then there were others ones along the way that added up," Karhut said. "You can't give teams like that free chances and another opportunity at a drive, because they'll take advantage of that every time."

A series of dropped passes, penalties and numerous two-and-out situations plagued the Rifles in the second half, a failure that will force Karhut to leave no stone unturned as they prepare for their next game. The Rifles will play the 3-1 Edmonton Wildcats on Sept. 22 at Investors Group Field.

"Every little detail will be taken care of this week. I'm going to make sure the coaches are watching for every little thing and we just have to be on these guys. In my mind, we're too good to be 1-3," Karhut said. "The good part is next week we get another opportunity to prove ourselves."

Coates also believes the Rifles' record doesn't accurately portray the talent of their team.

"At points we showed we can move the ball at will and make things happen. We know we're among the tops in this division, we just have to translate our efforts into wins and make things happen," he said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 16, 2013 C4

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