Rivalry games highlight first prep FB week


Palisade at Central

Friday, 7 p.m., Stocker Stadium


RECORDS: Palisade 0-0, Central 0-0

LAST WEEK: Season opener for both teams

GAME NOTES: The “East Valley Championship” game always draws a big crowd for the season opener. Palisade enters as the No. 6 team in Class 3A. The game should be a good showcase of quarterbacks, Central senior Taylor Sanchez and Palisade junior Luke McLean. Palisade has 14 starters back from last season; Central returns a dozen starters. Palisade doesn’t have the overall size and depth of Central as a Class 3A school, but Central coach Vern McGee said his team is a little beat up from going hard in practice all week to prepare for the physical Bulldogs.

Grand junction at highlands ranch

Friday, 7 p.m., Shea Stadium


RECORDS: Grand Junction 0-0; Highlands Ranch 0-0

LAST WEEK: Season opener for both teams

GAME NOTES: It’s the third meeting in two seasons for the top-10 Class 5A programs. The Falcons won last season’s opener, but the Tigers came back to win the first-round playoff game. Grand Junction, led by senior quarterback Sean Rubalcaba, a four-year starter, and running back Jerreon Dennis, is ranked fourth in this week’s Denver Post media poll; Highlands Ranch is ranked ninth. Rubalcaba ran for more than 1,300 yards and threw for more than 1,400 yards last season, accounting for 30 TDs, and Dennis is a returning 1,500-yard rusher.

Fruita Monument at Cherokee Trail

Friday, 7 p.m., Legacy Stadium


RECORDS: Fruita Monument 0-1; Cherokee Trail 0-0

LAST WEEK: Fruita Monument lost 18-6 at Broomfield; Cherokee Trail did not play

GAME NOTES: The Wildcats were right with No. 6 Broomfield, which was ranked fifth in Class 4A last week, tied 6-6 until a couple of costly turnovers led to a pair of second-half touchdowns in the Eagles’ win. It doesn’t get any easier this week, facing the No. 3 team in Class 5A, but Fruita has the advantage of having played one game, with a week to address its mistakes and make adjustments.

Games to Watch

Cedaredge at Paonia, 7 p.m. Friday

Rifle at Grand Valley, 7 p.m. Friday (1490-AM KTMM, Rifle)

Roaring Fork at Hotchkiss, 7 p.m. Friday

It’s not exactly in the job description of a high school football coach, but worrying about everything certainly comes with the gig.

Injuries, depth, implementing the right offense and defense, getting the players in the right position, contact vs. no-contact practices, travel plans ...

Throw a rivalry game into the mix for the season opener and it’s enough to give a coach an overload of indigestion.

Two rivalry games tonight, one in the valley and one across the state, highlight the first full week of prep football in Colorado.

The “East Valley Championship” kicks off at 7 tonight at Stocker Stadium, with Palisade playing Central.

At Shea Stadium in Littleton, fourth-ranked Grand Junction plays No. 9 Highlands Ranch for the fifth time in the past four years and the third time in the past two.

Palisade and Central is a unique matchup, pitting a Class 3A team against a Class 5A team.

“Our kids are tough, but we don’t have the depth and size Central does,” Palisade Athletic Director Mike Krueger said. “You will notice how much bigger they are than us.

“We can’t match up size and numbers-wise and that makes John (Arledge) and Matt (Diers, Palisade’s principal) and myself really nervous. If we lose a speciality player (to injury) we don’t have anybody to step in and play that spot.”

Central coach Vern McGee knows how hard the Bulldogs play, no matter the size of the opponent.

“Last year they got after us,” he said. “Our morale was down until league. Even though they’re a great 3A program, losing to a smaller classification ... you’re talking about 16-, 17-year-old men and it messes with their minds.”

To that end, he doesn’t utter the term “3A” around the Warriors.

“We say ‘the guys down the road,’ ‘’ he said. “They’re always tough, always in the playoffs, but I never use the word ‘3A’ around my kids.”

McGee said playing Palisade guarantees good competition for the Warriors, better than scheduling a mediocre big school.

The buzz around both schools has been good all week, especially with the volleyball and softball teams squaring off this week.

“They’ll get out there and get crazy,” Krueger said.

“I’m in the gym all the time, I don’t see anybody,” McGee said, laughing. “I think it’s pretty good from what I’ve seen around the gym. We always have a good turnout when we play Palisade.”

There’s no traveling trophy on the line, nothing but bragging rights for the East end of the valley, although ...

“There’s probably a friendly bet between the principals,” Krueger said of Matt Diers and his wife, Jody, the Central principal, “but I can’t confirm that.”

Grand Junction and Highlands Ranch have become rivals the past few years, and it intensified after the Tigers beat the Falcons in the playoffs last season.

Coach Robbie Owens has reminded the Tigers their lofty ranking is based on last season’s success. But with 27 seniors, the Tigers seem primed for a big year.

“I don’t want to take that swagger away, but we’re a work in progress,” he said. “I would say we’re embracing the rankings and the attention, but the biggest thing now is we have to go and prove it on the field.”

Quarterback Sean Rubalcaba and running back Jerreon Dennis have gotten a lot of the preseason attention, but Owens has been impressed by a couple of others this fall.

Lineman James Diamanti is getting Division I attention (Owens said at least a dozen Division I coaches are expected at tonight’s game) and free safety/wide receiver Brent Labonte should be an impact player on both sides of the ball.

Highlands Ranch is coached by former Rifle coach Darrel Gorham, with one of Owens’ former Mesa State (now Colorado Mesa University) teammates, Brian Trautman, coaching the offensive line.

“We’ve played them every year I’ve been here and twice last year,” Owens said. “Beating them in the playoffs last year has made it more of a rivalry.”


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