Hear them roar: Tigers roll into playoffs on eight-game winning streak
Grand Junction’s final regular-season football game against Durango could have been trouble.
With the Southwestern Conference title and a Class 5A state playoff berth locked up, the Tigers were trying to avoid a letdown against Class 4A Durango.
The Tigers had nothing to be concerned about.
Grand Junction all but assured itself of a home playoff game with a 49-7 victory Friday night at Stocker Stadium.
“This game, we stressed a lot,” Grand Junction senior defensive lineman Cody Cottrell said. “If we lost this game, it would’ve dropped us out of the top 16 and we would’ve lost a first-round home playoff game. It was important to us seniors. We would’ve liked a shutout better, but we came out and played a solid game offensively and defensively.”
The Tigers (8-1, 4-0 SWC) won their eighth consecutive game and their first conference title since 2005. That season, Grand Junction reached the Class 4A state championship game. It was also the last year someone other than Montrose won the conference title.
“Part of it is a little lucky and getting the right seed, but at the end of the day we get to play a game at home,” Grand Junction coach Robbie Owens said.
“Nobody in the Southwestern League’s been able to do that (in 5A). One of the goals we set in the summer is hosting a first-round playoff game. It’s a great opportunity for us.”
Grand Junction rushed for 219 yards, led by Andy Willett with 18 carries for 93 yards and four touchdowns. Sean Rubalcaba had six carries for 79 yards and two touchdowns. He completed 11 of 17 passes for 147 yards. Chandon Rose caught seven passes for 70 yards.
“Andy and Jerreon (Dennis) are two great weapons,” Owens said. “They’re change-of-pace guys. We’ve got to be able to utilize Andy’s speed with Jerreon’s power. You can see today, they complement each other and don’t miss a beat.”
The Tigers made sure they avoided a letdown by setting the tempo on their first possession.
“We wanted to be quicker, push the tempo and really put pressure on Durango,” Owens said.
Grand Junction built a 35-0 lead, scoring on all five of its first-half possessions.
Rubalcaba scored on a 25-yard run on a fourth-and-three on Grand Junction’s first possession. Dennis made it 14-0 with a 2-yard run with 2:31 left in the first quarter.
Willett scored the next three touchdowns on runs of 6, 7 and 14 yards for a 35-0 lead. He had eight rushes for 49 yards in the second quarter.
Grand Junction’s defense kept the shutout intact with a goal-line stand at the end of the first half.
“It was great,” Cottrell said. “They had a great series there. Our line came through and held them tough. We had a little bit of a rough game last week, so it was a nice change.”
Durango moved into scoring territory after quarterback Joe Keresey completed a 40-yard pass to George Mayberry. Two plays later, Mayberry ran the ball to the 1-yard line, but the Tigers made two stops, including one after a timeout on the final play of the first half.
“We told the defense when they call timeout, this is one of those plays you never know down the road you may need,” Owens said. “We challenged them and they did a great job of getting the stop.”
The Tigers limited Durango (4-5, 0-3 SWC) to 175 yards in total offense (67 rushing, 108 passing).
Grand Junction scored on its first two possessions of the second half. Rubalcaba had a 42-yard run and Willett scored from 15 yards out.
The Demons ended the shutout on a 17-yard pass from Keresey to Mayberry with 6:02 left in the game.