Austin Berk’s big defensive plays help Tigers stay undefeated, top Fruita

Grand Junction running back Jerron Dennis runs for a gain Friday night during the Tigers’ victory over rival Fruita Monument. Grand Junction, the top-ranked team in Class 5A, stayed undefeated with a victory at Stocker Stadium.

Grand Junction quarterback Sean Rubalcaba scrambles as he looks to pass Friday night during the Tigers’ rout of rival Fruita Monument.

Fruita Monument quarterback Zach Thorpe looks to pass Friday night during the Wildcats’ loss to Grand Junction at Stocker Stadium. Thorpe, who sustained a concussion in the game, was put on a gurney and taken to a local hospital for further evaluation.

Austin Berk seemed to be everywhere.

The Grand Junction High School junior recovered three fumbles, recorded at least one sack and even had an interception in Grand Junction’s 42-14 victory Friday night over rival Fruita Monument at Stocker Stadium.

“This is the greatest feeling in the world,” Berk said. “This was huge for me, especially against our biggest rival. There’s not much else better than this.”

Berk single-handedly disrupted the Wildcats’ offense, recovering two fumbles and intercepting a pass — all in the second quarter.

Fruita Monument’s four turnovers in the second quarter proved costly, as the Tigers rallied from a rare 14-7 deficit with three touchdowns to take a 28-14 lead at halftime.

“Four turnovers in a quarter, then we come out and turn it over on our first drive in the second half,” Fruita coach Sean Mulvey said. “You’re not going to beat a top-ranked team doing that.

“We thought we had a good game plan coming in, our kids were ready. You can’t hang in there when you do that. Hats off to Junction; they are a good team. They’re physical and strong.”

Berk’s first fumble recovery came after the Tigers (8-0, 3-0 SWC) tied the score 14-14 early in the second quarter.

Grand Junction turned the ball back over to the Wildcats, but Fruita failed to take advantage.

The Wildcats (4-4, 2-1 SWC) fumbled again and Gage Casey recovered, leading to a Tigers touchdown and a 21-14 lead.

Berk recovered another Fruita fumble on the next possession and it led to Sean Rubalcaba’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Chandon Rose and a 28-14 lead with 1:18 left in the half.

“We didn’t get very many stops in the first half,” Grand Junction coach Robbie Owens said. “It was just them making mistakes. Offensively we were at 25 plays and 28 points. We went through lulls again. We’ve definitely got to play better in order to reach the goals that we want later in the season.”

Berk’s biggest play might have been his interception on the next series.

Fruita quickly moved into Grand Junction territory and was in position to score with 15 seconds left.

Berk tipped Zach Thorpe’s pass and pulled it in for a rare interception, keeping the Tigers’ lead at two touchdowns.

“I saw the ball coming over my head and I tried to hit it up,” Berk said. “All of a sudden I saw it right above me and grabbed it. I’m a D-lineman, I don’t get interceptions.”

Grand Junction didn’t take long to score on its first possession of the second half.

Jerreon Dennis, who rushed for 315 yards, scored on a 77-yard run in the first minute of the second half for a 35-14 lead.

On the next possession, Fruita Monument lost the handle on the ball again and Berk was there again.

Dennis added his fourth touchdown of the game in the fourth quarter on a 6-yard run.

The Tigers rushed for 360 yards and had 432 yards in total offense.

Fruita lost Thorpe, a team captain, to a concussion, Mulvey said.

The senior quarterback was put on a gurney and taken to a local hospital for further evaluation.

Running back Vince Grasso rushed for 132 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Wildcats.

“There are a lot of positives we can take out of this game,” Mulvey said. “Our kids have a lot of heart. We have great senior leadership. It’s a great group of kids, we just couldn’t overcome the turnovers tonight.

“We saw areas in their defense we could exploit and did. They bring a lot of pressure. If you’re not on your ‘A’ game, it doesn’t work out for you.”


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