Another year ... another cat fight: Conference bragging rights on the line for Tigers, Wildcats

Jordan Jones and the Grand Junction Tigers hope to continue their offensive onslaught in the Southwestern Conference on Friday against Fruita Monument. The Wildcats simply want to keep playing with the confidence they have shown in three straight wins.



Fruita Monument coach Shawn marsh has a unique perspective on the Grand Junction-Fruita Monument rivalry having coached at both schools. The Tigers hope to continue their offensive onslaught in the Southwestern Conference. The Wildcats simply want to keep playing with the confidence they have shown in three straight wins.



QUICKREAD

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS AT PALISADE

Thursday, 7 p.m., Stocker Stadium

RADIO: 95.1-FM (KKNN)

RECORDS: Palisade 6-1, 3-1 Western Slope Conference; Steamboat Springs 0-7, 0-3 WSC

LAST WEEK: Palisade beat Eagle Valley 47-12; Steamboat Springs lost to Glenwood Springs 39-14.

GAME NOTES: This should be an easy win for the Bulldogs, but coach John Arledge says it’s going to be a challenge for Palisade.

“Their record isn’t indicative of how athletic they are,” Arledge said. “They are young, they haven’t learned how to win, but if they get the offense moving they aren’t that bad.”

The Sailors run an option offense, led by sophomore quarterback Christian Ramirez. Running back Dylan Preston gets the bulk of the Sailors’ carries.

Palisade has ripped off three lopsided wins since losing to Glenwood Springs on Sept. 23. Last week against Eagle Valley, Palisade put up all 47 of its points in the first half.

Arledge said the key against the Sailors is playing fundamental football.

“We just have to get of the ball, be physical up front and play our style of football,” Arledge said.

FRUITA MONUMENT AT GRAND JUNCTION

FRIDAY, 7 P.M., STOCKER STADIUM

RADIO: 1340-AM (KTMM); 95.1-FM (KKNN)

RECORDS: FRUITA MONUMENT 3-4, 2-0 SOUTHWESTERN CONFERENCE; GRAND JUNCTION 6-1, 2-0 SWC

LAST WEEK: FRUITA MONUMENT DEFEATED LOVELAND 10-7; GRAND JUNCTION BEAT MONTROSE 49-13.

GAME NOTES: THERE WILL BE ONLY ONE TEAM UNDEFEATED IN SWC PLAY AFTER THIS GAME.

THE TIGERS OUTSCORED THEIR TWO PREVIOUS CONFERENCE OPPONENTS, CENTRAL AND MONTROSE, 98-34. IN THOSE TWO GAMES, GRAND JUNCTION QUARTERBACK SEAN RUBALCABA THREW FOR THREE TOUCHDOWNS AND RUSHED FOR FOUR TOUCHDOWNS.

“OUR GUYS UNDERSTAND THAT WE ARE PLAYING EACH WEEK TO GET BETTER,” GRAND JUNCTION COACH ROBBIE OWENS SAID. “WE’VE DONE THAT BECAUSE WE’VE COME OUT ON PLAY ONE AND DONE OUR JOBS.”

FRUITA MONUMENT HAS STRUNG TOGETHER THREE STRAIGHT WINS AFTER STARTING THE YEAR 0-4.

LAST WEEK AGAINST LOVELAND, THE WILDCATS HELD THE INDIANS TO SEVEN POINTS DESPITE GIVING UP 330 YARDS OF TOTAL OFFENSE.

“OUR DEFENSE IS DOING WELL, EVEN AGAINST LOVELAND THEY BENT BUT NEVER BROKE,” FRUITA MONUMENT COACH SHAWN MARSH SAID. “BOTH TEAMS ARE PLAYING WELL RIGHT NOW.”

THE WILDCATS ARE LED BY QUARTERBACK ZACH THORPE, WHO THREW FOR 222 YARDS LAST WEEK.

THE GATES WILL BE OPEN AT 5:30 P.M., AND DISTRICT 51 ATHLETIC DIRECTOR PAUL CAIN SAID FANS SHOULD ARRIVE EARLY, BECAUSE A BIG CROWD IS EXPECTED.

Central at Montrose

Friday, 7 p.m., Montrose High School

RADIO: none

RECORDS: Central 2-5, 1-2 SWC; Montrose 4-3, 0-1 SWC

LAST WEEK: Central defeated Durango 24-21; Montrose lost to Grand Junction 49-13.

GAME NOTES: Central enters the game with some momentum after a game-winning field goal on the final play last week. The Warriors ran the ball effectively, rushing for 286 yards and three touchdowns. It was the first time the Warriors had fewer turnovers than their opponent, coach Vern McGee said, but Central needs to tackle better.

Montrose is reeling, losing three consecutive games, including a 49-13 loss to Grand Junction last week. The Indians allowed 502 yards in total offense in the loss, but Bryce Gaber was able to run for 119 yards and one touchdown on 23 carries.

OTHER GAMES TO WATCH

RIFLE AT MOFFAT COUNTY, 7 P.M., FRIDAY: THE BULLDOGS NEED A WIN TO MOVE INTO PLAYOFF CONTENTION AGAINST A RIFLE TEAM WITHOUT A CONFERENCE LOSS.

ASPEN AT COAL RIDGE, 7 P.M., FRIDAY: THE SKIERS, WHO HAVE A SHOWDOWN WITH OLATHE NEXT WEEK, CAN’T OVERLOOK A COAL RIDGE TEAM LOOKING FOR ITS FIRST PLAYOFF BERTH IN SCHOOL HISTORY.

HOTCHKISS AT PAONIA, 7 P.M., FRIDAY: THE EAGLES COULD SEE THEIR PLAYOFF HOPES GET A BOOST WITH A VICTORY OVER THEIR RIVAL.

NUCLA AT PLATEAU VALLEY, 1 P.M., SATURDAY: EIGHT-MAN TEAMS PLAY FOR A CHANCE TO EXTEND THEIR SEASONS TO A STATE PLAYOFF PLAY-IN GAME NEXT WEEK.



There are so many story lines for Friday night’s football game between Grand Junction and Fruita Monument, it’s hard to know where to begin.

Let’s break it down into four quarters.

First Quarter: Rivalry Week

The first word many of the players and coaches say when it comes to this 66-game rivalry is environment.

“This is what we all play for, the Friday night lights against Junction,” Fruita Monument wide receiver Tyler Daniels said. “This is the last time for me to play them so we’ll be ready.”

For seniors such as Daniels and Grand Junction running back Andy Willett, the contest has a special meaning because it’s the final game of their high school careers against the rival school.

“There has always been that competitiveness,” Willett said. “We’ve been competing against these kids for a long time, and now it’s to the peak of that rivalry.”

Grand Junction coach Robbie Owens is entering his third game against Fruita Monument, and got a taste of how competitive the rivalry is early on.

During Owens’ first season, 2008, the Wildcats won 18-14 on a late 41-yard touchdown pass from Brett Nankervis to Scott Miller.

Owens said he realized quickly it was a different type of game.

“Both student bodies are there, and everyone is going to be pumped up to be a part of this game,” Owens said. “So you have to understand that there is going to be a different atmosphere and a higher intensity, but at the same time our guys have to realize it’s a game of football and we just have to go out and play.”

Second Quarter: the sidelines

In 2007, Shawn Marsh was the head coach at Grand Junction. He’s now Fruita Monument’s head coach.

Marsh compiled a 47-29 record in seven seasons at Grand Junction, and led the Tigers to the 2005 Class 4A state title game.

“That was one of the best times of my life. I taught and coached there for a long time and some of my best friends are still at that school,” Marsh said.

When Marsh took the job at Fruita, a few members of the Grand Junction coaching staff joined him.

Fruita Monument’s offensive coordinator, Phil Johnston, and defensive coordinator, Sean Mulvey, were both on the Tigers’ staff last season.

Owens said he expects the Wildcats to be well prepared for the Tigers’ offensive and defensive schemes.

“They know our offense and Coach Johnston was a big part of our last two years and building where we are at now,” Owens said. “So they’ll have some inside info, but at the same time we aren’t going to veer off of what we do.

“Our kids know they have to go out and block and tackle or we won’t come away with a victory.”

Third Quarter: What’s at stake?

Grand Junction (6-1) enters Friday’s game on a six-game winning streak and is coming off lopsided wins against Central (49-21) and Montrose (49-13). The Tigers are in line for their first Southwestern Conference championship since 2005.

Fruita Monument (3-4) is also 2-0 in the conference with wins over Central (19-14) and Durango (42-29).

Last week, the Wildcats defeated Loveland 10-7.

The winner of Friday’s game has the inside track to the SWC championship, with every other conference team having at least one loss.

“We have back-to-back weeks of big SWL games,” Willett said. “This can be a deciding factor for who’s going to be the SWL champions and that’s a huge motivator with this game.”

The winner of the conference isn’t guaranteed a spot in the Class 5A playoffs, but a win Friday would improve both teams’ wild-card points, which is how the 5A playoffs are seeded.

The top 32 teams make the postseason. Grand Junction is seventh in the wild-card standings with 95.286 points. Fruita Monument is 27th with 77.875 points.

“We are at this point where we control our own destiny,” Marsh said. “We are going to prepare for Junction, and I know both teams will be ready to play.”

Fourth Quarter: Between the lines

Offensively both teams have plenty of weapons. Grand Junction is led by junior quarterback Sean Rubalcaba.

Last week against Montrose, Rubalcaba had 323 yards of total offense, including 229 on the ground.

“Rubalcaba is a big focus for us,” Marsh said. “He throws the ball very well, but he’s also a great runner.”

Grand Junction’s spread option offense gives Rubalcaba plenty of outlets, both running and throwing.

With Rubalcaba in charge of the offense, the Tigers broke out last week against Montrose with six touchdowns of 20 yards or longer.

“Junction has had some big plays in all of its games,” Marsh said. “That’ll be a key, to stop the big plays and make them grind it out.”

In the past three games, Fruita Monument has figured how to score when it needs to. The Wildcats aren’t lighting up the scoreboard, but have been able to sustain drives to win games.

One of the keys to the Wildcats’ offensive success is the play of H-back Martin Zupan. The bubble screen has been Fruita’s go-to play, and Zupan has averaged 122 yards receiving the past three games, mostly with the quick passing game.

“The biggest thing is Daniels, Zupan and (quarterback Zach) Thorpe put pressure on defenses,” Owens said. “They are figuring out the timing because they’ve gotten better every week and they aren’t the same team against Loveland that played zero week against Broomfield.”

Last week against Loveland, Thorpe threw for 222 yards, including a 41-yard go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter to Daniels.

“Being it’s Junction, it’s going to be a higher intensity,” Thorpe said. “It’s going to be a very physical game, but we have to keep playing like we have been.”


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