Tigers run over
Junction offense can't keep up with Ralston Valley
In the three phases of football, the Ralston Valley Mustangs won two of them.
The Mustangs used two kickoff returns for touchdowns and a nearly flawless performance by quarterback Jacob Knipp to outgun Grand Junction 66-45 on Saturday night at Stocker Stadium.
When it came to defense, neither team had much luck stopping the other.
“Offensively we did some good things, but to score 45 and still get beat as well as we did is unfortunate,” Grand Junction coach Robbie Owens said.
Knipp was 14 of 18 for 333 yards and four touchdowns in the game, but it was one of his few mistakes that gave the Tigers a shot to start the fourth quarter.
The Tigers had cut the lead to 51-42 on an Austin Lewis 27-yard run, then Theron Verna dropped into the right flat and snagged Knipp’s pass one play into the fourth quarter.
But the Tigers’ offense didn’t come through, and they had to settle for a 37-yard field goal by Alex Steiner to cut the lead to 51-45. The kick provided the only points for Grand Junction in the fourth.
It was another example of the Tigers getting close only to see the Mustangs answer.
This time it was Knipp who found a hole in the Grand Junction defense and drilled John Morales for a 66-yard TD.
After Grand Junction quarterback Tyler Heinsma threw an interception, the Mustangs put the game away on Knipp’s 4-yard run.
“When the corners come up when we send somebody in motion, we like our guys one-on-one against them,” Knipp said. “When they play man-on-man, I like that matchup every day.”
Owens was frustrated that Knipp was able to find huge holes in the secondary, especially after the Tigers prepared for the Mustangs’ potent passing attack.
“We knew coming in that (Knipp) did a good job,” Owens said. “We wanted to take away the throws that he’d been making the last couple of weeks.”
The coach said they worked on taking away certain patterns, but on several occasions they had players out of position, and the result was Knipp finding wide-open receivers. He had scoring throws of 41, 66, 37 and 26 yards.
But the real backbreaker for the Tigers came from a 95-yard kickoff return by Jon Baumann in the second quarter, and the 88-yard kickoff return by Andrew Wingard in the third. Wingard’s return came after Heinsma bulled over a defensive back at the goal line to score on an 8-yard run to cut the lead to 43-35.
“When you get back into the game, and we feel like we have a chance, then we give up that kickoff return, it’s unfortunate,” Owens said. “Special teams killed us today.”
In the second quarter, a 56-yard scoring run by Verna electrified the home crowd. Heinsma sucked the defense in and made a great pitch to Verna, then Jack Parsons got a seal block to get Verna to the right sideline, where he motored in for the TD.
The run gave Grand Junction the lead at 21-20, and all of the momentum was with the Tigers. It quickly was sucked away when Baumann broke several tackles on the ensuing kickoff en route to his 95-yard return.
The Tigers got off to the best start possible by forcing a fumble on the first play. Heinsma scored from two yards out on fourth down to give the Tigers a 7-0 lead.
Heinsma finished with 101 yards rushing and four TDs. His second TD was a 43-yard scamper in the second quarter.
Both teams came in with a reputation for scoring points. Ralston Valley (3-1) was averaging 34 points per game and Grand Junction (3-1) about 50 points per game.
Even though the Tigers had brief leads at 7-0 and 21-20, they played from behind most of the game, which made it difficult on the offense as the game wore on.
“We were playing from behind a lot,” Heinsma said. “Offensively, we did all right but they are a very good team, and they started figuring out what we were trying to do.”
Lewis gave the Mustangs trouble all game with his power and elusiveness running between the tackles. He finished with 189 yards on 24 carries. His 50-yard run in the third quarter set up a Grand Junction score.