Behind talented offensive line, GJ cruises in season opener
He said he could have run for 90 yards, but that would have put Austin Lewis across North Avenue, somewhere in front of McDonald’s golden arch.
The hole was just that wide on Lewis’s 16-yard touchdown run in the first quarter Friday night. It was a simple dive play, with left guard James Diamanti pulling to kick out an inside linebacker, and with a hole at least 10 yards wide, Lewis jogged into the end zone for Grand Junction’s first touchdown of the season at Stocker Stadium.
Grand Junction defeated Prairie View 48-7, and in doing so triggered a running clock after going up by more than 40 points in the third quarter.
The mammoth running lanes were there, as the Tigers expected. The defense, this time led by nose tackle Kyler Rose, his 270-pound body somehow peeling out like a Ford Mustang and making tackles for losses and long rundowns, shut down the run — also as expected.
The unknown for the Tigers was their “skill-position” players, the majority of whom were making their first varsity starts.
And with an answer to the unknowns, Grand Junction led 28-0 before the first quarter was over.
“We also mixed in our passing game and made some big plays, which we didn’t have last year because we were so potent in the running game,” Grand Junction coach Robbie Owens said. “So, we’ll just have to get the ball out on the perimeter and let those guys run.”
The Tigers rotated John Wiman and Tyler Heinsma at quarterback.
Wiman started and took the majority of the snaps, completing eight of 11 passes for 207 yards — including a 32-yard touchdown pass to Jack Parsons. The Tigers often attacked Prairie View cornerbacks with quick perimeter passes to receivers on the line of scrimmage or on comeback routes.
Wiman, though, had the luxury of chilling behind what resembles a college offensive line.
“It definitely put the nerves at ease for me,” Wiman said. “I didn’t really worry about having to get hit too much.”
Some other Tiger “unknown” athletes made themselves known.
Dion Martinez, second on the depth chart at left cornerback, made two interceptions, including one he took 62 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter.
Trevor Abbott, a starting outside linebacker, blocked a punt in the first quarter that set up Grand Junction at the Thunderhawks’ 10-yard line. Kaleb Johnson later scored on a nine-yard run.
The Tigers took a 34-0 lead in the second quarter when Wiman scored from 35 yards out on a keeper.
But to end the half, the Tigers failed to punch in a touchdown when inside the Prairie View 10-yard line.
“Against those guys we should have been able to score,” Owens said. “We obviously wanted to get the running clock and we were able to do that. We feel like we have a lot to improve on.”
In fact, when asked what the highlight of the game was, Wiman couldn’t yank one from his mind.
“We have a lot we need to improve on,” Wiman said. “Just play calls, getting our offense more in tempo.”
But there was a highlight that was hard to miss. Late in the third quarter, a Grand Junction 270-pound nose tackle chased a reverse play some 15 yards down field, catching up to a running back and diving on the pile.
It was Rose.
He did not make the tackle.
He did not care.
Fittingly, the nose tackle known for his Ivy League smarts said he only cares about getting an ‘A’ for effort.
“My mentality is just getting the tackle every play, hustling every single play,” Rose said.
The Tigers’ identity is taking shape.
“We’re big up front. We love our big guys,” Rose said, “but we’ve got to give credit to the skills guys. It was their first game, and they stepped up huge.”