Goal-oriented Tigers ready for Northglenn

Grand Junction quarterback Sean Rubalcaba runs with the football Thursday during practice for the Tigers’ playoff game Saturday against Northglenn in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs at Stocker Stadium.


Northglenn at Grand Junction

Class 5A State Playoffs

Saturday, 1 p.m., Stocker Stadium

RADIO: updates on 1340-AM (KTMM)

RECORDS: Grand Junction 8-1; Northglenn 6-3

LAST WEEK: Grand Junction defeated Durango 49-7; Northglenn defeated Hinkley 24-14.

Game notes: Northglenn, the No. 23 seed, is led by quarterback Jared Radebaugh. The senior has thrown for 1,677 yards this season and 14 touchdowns. A threat in the running game, Radebaugh leads the Norse in carries with 125 for 965 yards. Radebaugh has 15 rushing touchdowns. His main target is wide receiver Garrett Downing, who has 41 catches for 594 yards.

Defensively, the Norse give up an average of 24 points per game.

Grand Junction, the No. 10 seed, will attack Northglenn on the ground.

The Tigers have options in the backfield, with senior Andy Willett turning in a 102-yard performance last week against Durango. Willett missed four weeks with a knee injury, but his absence led to the emergence of Jerreon Dennis, who has more than 1,000 yards rushing this season.

After back-to-back seasons that didn’t go how the Grand Junction High School football team envisioned, the Tigers tried something new this year.

The Tigers made a list of all the goals they wanted to accomplish in the 2010 season.

“We took a different perspective because when we looked at our schedule we really felt like there wasn’t any reason why we couldn’t beat anyone on there,” Grand Junction coach Robbie Owens said. “We tried to preach that to them in the offseason.”

Owens said the Tigers, who face Northglenn in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs at 1 p.m. Saturday at Stocker Stadium, have achieved every goal to this point.

“We wanted them to see that we were a good football team,” Owens said. “That’s what’s been the most gratifying thing for me, is what these guys set in the summer has come to fruition.”

The Tigers’ regular-season goals included winning the Southwestern Conference, which it did against Fruita Monument in a 28-10 win.

The Tigers wanted to beat a Class 5A Front Range team in the regular season for the first time since moving to the state’s biggest classification, in 2008. Grand Junction did that three times, including defeating playoff teams Westminster and Fountain-Fort Carson.

Other accomplished goals include Grand Junction making its way into the Denver Post Top 10, not losing to a 4A team and beating District 51 rivals Central and Fruita Monument.

Achieving all those goals enabled Grand Junction to check off the final regular-season goal of getting into the top 16 and being the first SWC team to host a 5A first-round playoff game.

“At the beginning of the summer we made a pyramid of goals we wanted to accomplish,” Grand Junction quarterback Sean Rubalcaba said. “The goals at the bottom were ones that each one of us could do, then building up to our main goal, which (is) a state championship.

“We’ve accomplished so many goals that have allowed us to grow so much from last year.”

Winning has injected life into the Grand Junction program. After finishing with three wins each of their first two seasons in 5A, the Tigers are 8-1.

“We haven’t had this feeling as a team since I’ve been here,” Owens said. “To be honest, there were times at the end of the season the first two years where I think our kids were ready for football to be over.

“This year our kids are saying we don’t want it to be over, and that’s the excitement that the playoffs and winning creates.”

Grand Junction enters the postseason as a very balanced team. The Tigers have scored an average of 37 points per game and are giving up only 12 points per game.

Rubalcaba has 20 total touchdowns (11 rushing, nine passing) and 1,871 total yards of offense. Running back Jerreon Dennis has rushed for 1,093 yards.

Grand Junction’s defense is led by Casey Walker, who has eight sacks. Safety Brandon Malloy is one of the Tigers’ defensive leaders with 39 total tackles.

“Coach keeps telling us there is nothing like November football,” Rubalcaba said. “We are coming out with a chip on our shoulder to prove a Western Slope team can get a win in 5A, and we want to keep moving forward.”


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