Aerial assault: Grand Junction uses strong passing game to top Central
The Central High School football team knew it had to stop Grand Junction’s running attack.
Friday at Stocker Stadium, the Warriors’ priority was containing Tigers running back Jerreon Dennis, who had rushed for more than 100 yards in the Tigers’ four previous games.
When Grand Junction realized the Warriors’ approach, it took to the air.
Grand Junction (5-1, 1-0 Southwestern Conference) quarterback Sean Rubalcaba went 8 of 11 for 201 yards passing and three touchdown in the Tigers’ 49-21 win.
“I think a lot of teams are going to try and stop our running game,” Rubalcaba said. “But our line did a great job, gave me time, and it’s easy to pick someone out when you have a bunch of athletes out there.”
Rubalcaba completed passes to four different receivers and had a touchdown pass to three different receivers.
“There were times when (Central) had 10 guys in the box to stop the run,” Grand Junction coach Robbie Owens said. “We needed some plays in the passing game, and Sean threw the ball well.”
Central (1-5, 0-2 SWC) kept Rubalcaba off the field as the Warriors opened the game on an impressive 13-play drive that went 58 yards, but ended with the Warriors missing a field goal.
The Tigers took advantage of the Warriors leaving points on the field, and on the Tigers’ second offensive play, Rubalcaba connected with Chandon Rose on a 43-yard reception. Rubalcaba found Cory DeRush five plays later on a swing pass that DeRush turned into a 23-yard touchdown.
“Everyone on the field is a go-to guy,” Rubalcaba said. “We’ve been playing well the past few weeks and everyone is on the same page.”
The Tigers found themselves with a short field on their next drive after a Central fumble. Grand Junction went 25 yards in six plays and took a 14-0 lead on Dennis’ 1-yard run at the end of the first quarter.
Central’s next drive stalled, and Rubalcaba responded with a 65-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Winder to put the Tigers up 21-0.
“We changed a few things up front to stop the run and they hit us with the pass,” Central coach Vern McGee said. “But we knew Sean could throw the ball.”
Despite trailing by three scores, the Warriors found themselves with a scoring opportunity after a short punt on the Tigers’ next drive. Central took over at Grand Junction’s 48-yard line.
The Warriors found the end zone with a 33-yard halfback pass from Aaron Wallway to Kyle Rowe to cut the deficit to 21-7.
The score gave Central momentum on the ensuing Tigers’ possession, and the Warriors forced the Tigers into a third-and-25 at their own 35-yard line.
Looking for some breathing room for a punt, Rubalcaba rolled to his right and threw an incomplete pass to Justin Whiting, but drew a flag for roughing the passer.
Rubalcaba took advantage of the penalty with a 39-yard pass to DeRush a few plays later that set up a Dennis 1-yard TD run.
The Tigers took a 28-7 lead into halftime.
“I didn’t agree with the call,” McGee said. “It was a huge turn, but we have to live with it, and we didn’t make the next couple plays.”
The Tigers scored two times in the third quarter to seal the win.
Dennis finished with 95 yards on 25 carries and three touchdowns.
“Central played us tough the past two years,” Rubalcaba said. “This year we came out and played Tiger football.”
The Warriors didn’t show much offensively in the second half aside from a late Joe Smith touchdown.
Central quarterback Taylor Sanchez was 8 of 13 passing for 122 yards. He had 22 rushes for 44 yards on the ground.
Central had 10 penalties and gave up eight sacks.
“Our kids battled,” McGee said. “But we turned the ball over and missed too many tackles.”