GJ’s state title hopes dashed in loss to Lakewood
One moment, running back Jerreon Dennis was carrying a pile of pads for 10 yards on fourth and inches, and those rooting for the Grand Junction Tigers just knew it would be a game-winning drive.
Then, one final time, ugly happened to the No. 2 Tigers.
Two runs for no yards. An incomplete pass.
A delay of game.
And on fourth-and-15 at the Lakewood 16 with 4 minutes remaining, wouldn’t you know, the 20-mph winds began gusting to 35, whipping leaves and dust and helplessness on the Tigers in Friday night’s Class 5A state quarterfinal against No. 10 Lakewood.
Junction receiver Chandon Rose could not corral a short pass and Lakewood went on to defeat Grand Junction, 36-24.
Lakewood (11-1) will host Pomona in the semifinals, which upset three-time state champion Mullen 23-22.
“It was the worst game we’ve played in three years,” Grand Junction coach Robbie Owens said. “You can’t play bad football in the state quarterfinal.”
Where did it go foul for the Tigers?
The first play.
Lakewood’s opening kickoff bounced near the sideline, and Lakewood managed to recover the ball before a Junction player could secure it.
Next play: Zeke Dalton found the end zone from 13 yards out.
Seven seconds had passed.
Lakewood was up, 7-0.
And before the first quarter was over, Lakewood was up 14-0, the largest deficit the Junction Tigers had faced all season.
Yet, the 11-1 Tigers took their first lead late in the second quarter at 21-20 after Dennis, who finished with 250 yards rushing on 31 carries, scored his third touchdown.
“We were definitely worried,” Lakewood coach Mark Robinson said. “We never saw a team like Grand Junction. That team was by far the best team we’ve played all year.”
Junction had a 24-23 lead in the third quarter when the wind nipped again. A fumbled punt gave Lakewood possession at the Junction 11.
Next play: John Greer touchdown, and Lakewood had a 29-24 lead it did not surrender.
“Our punter said the snap knuckled at him and it just blew away,” Owens said.
The wind was fast, but at times Greer seemed faster. Greer, who won a state championship with Mullen in 2009 and took fourth place that year in the 100 meters in track, took a second-quarter option pitch 87 yards for a touchdown.
Throughout, he was shifty and seemingly always a broken tackle away from a touchdown.
Late in the second quarter, he returned a kickoff 56 yards. Junction kicker Eddie Jaramillo’s side-to-side dance slowed Greer enough for Jordan Jones to make the tackle at the Tigers 36.
Lakewood capitalized on Ari Efaw’s 24-yard field goal that put it ahead 23-21 at halftime.
“I feel like we did have something to prove,” said Greer, who finished with 195 yards rushing and three TDs. “No one in the state shows any respect for Lakewood. We drove four hours here and they thought we’d get tired. Now we’re going to the final four.”
For Grand Junction, state championship hopes fizzled in an array of mistakes, the kind the Tigers had rarely seen.
“This team is so special,” Grand Junction quarterback Sean Rubalcaba said.
“A lot of us, we grew up with each other. We couldn’t make it past (the quarterfinals) last year, but you really can’t take away from 11-1. It was an awesome season.”