Win for Coach
Ross' pregame speech inspires Wildcats in win over Tigers
This one’s for Clarence Ross.
The Fruita Monument High School defensive coordinator was a member of Fruita’s 1966 state championship football team. Ross and several of his teammates, winners of the school’s only football title, were honored about 10 minutes before kickoff against Grand Junction on Friday at Stocker Stadium.
But Ross, a small but tough-as-nails lineman in his day, had something else to do. He needed to talk to his team.
The Wildcats used a pregame pep talk from Ross to seize momentum early in a 38-14 nonconference victory over the Tigers.
After an 0-2 start to the season, it was the motivation Fruita needed.
“He talked to the kids before the game,” Fruita coach Todd Casebier said. “He asked them, as a favor, if they could represent Fruita football they way they needed to with that ‘66 team that’s so important to him in the stands. It was really important for our kids to answer what Coach Clarence was asking and they did that. They did a great job.”
Fruita scored on the game’s first drive, plugging away for an 80-yard drive without throwing once. Fullback Logan Triplett crashed in for a 3-yard touchdown with 7 minutes, 55 seconds left in the first quarter.
After Grand Junction went three-and-out, Triplett capped an 11-play drive with a 6-yard score. The drive was kept alive by a 19-yard toss from Zach Rush to Kyle Fineran when the Wildcats were facing 3rd and 12.
Outside of the one completion, the second drive was again smashmouth football. Fullback dive, fullback dive, halfback dive, then sweep. It wasn’t a complicated pattern, but Fruita’s offensive line made it possible, Triplett said.
“The offensive line really blocked great tonight and it opened up holes for us,” Triplett said. “I can’t thank them enough. It was crazy what they’re able to do out there.”
The advantage was pushed to 17-0 on a 34-yard field goal from Marcus Mosnes less than three minutes into the second quarter.
Grand Junction’s first counterpunch came 1:54 before halftime, when running back Michael White burst through Fruita’s defensive line and linebackers, scampering untouched for a 28-yard score.
The Wildcats started deep in their own territory before Rush, rolling to his right, completed a back-foot pass to Fineran up the sideline for a 31-yard gain. After one short run, Braeden Graham broke a 20-yard rush to Grand Junction’s 25-yard line and the play was made longer by a penalty.
Fruita eventually faced fourth-and-2 as the clock ran down and Mosnes missed a 19-yard field goal to end the half.
The Tigers struck first in the second half. After Fruita launched a surprise quick kick on third-and-22, Grand Junction used short-to-medium gains on the ground to set up a 23-yard touchdown pass from Jax Nourse to a wide open Danny Antonucci up the seam.
Then came the biggest play of the game.
The Wildcats set up an option handoff to slotback Daniel Van Hoose, who pulled away for a 61-yard touchdown without a defender getting within five yards of him.
With Fruita leading 24-14, the Wildcats scored twice in the fourth quarter, both medium runs by Graham, to close out the game.
During the final touchdown, Rush appeared to twist his right knee and fell to the turf during the celebration. Rush was helped off the field by trainers and didn’t take Fruita’s final snap of the game — a kneel down — but was walking gingerly on the sideline.
Casebier said the injury seemed minor, but he won’t know anything until next week.
Both Graham and Triplett finished with two touchdowns. Graham, a junior, had 23 carries for 140 yards and Triplett, a senior, had 24 carries for 114 yards.
Grand Junction coach Mike Sirko said the team’s youth — the Tigers, according to Sirko, start only two seniors on defense — led to struggles with Fruita’s rushing attack.
“We’ve got to get better with our youth,” Sirko said. “They’re going to learn a lot, but we’ve got a lot of young kids on the defensive side of the football. That’s where we have to get better.”
Offensively, Sirko said, the Tigers need to finish drives. Grand Junction lost two fumbles and Nourse threw an interception early in the fourth quarter.
For Fruita, it was the first game both offense and defense came to play.
“We’ve been working our tails off defensively for the last two weeks,” Casebier said. “In the first game, our offense looked good and our defense struggled. Last week, we played well on defense and our offense couldn’t put it together. The kids played one heck of a game on both sides tonight.”