Big-play Tigers

Long scoring plays the norm for Grand Junction in big win

Grand Junction’s Austin Lewis heads to the end zone on one of his two long touchdown runs Friday night in the Tigers’ 42-14 victory over Rocky Mountain at Stocker Stadium. Lewis ran for 184 yards and his two touchdown runs covered 78 and 42 yards, respectively.

Tyler Heinsma saw it twice: He crossed the goal line after a long run, then turned to see a black and orange array of charging teammates.

“I’ve never broken off a big run like that before,” said Heinsma, who had scoring runs of 60 and 46 yards. “It was a great feeling.”

Yes, Grand Junction is capable of breaking big plays.

And its first-team defense did not allow a touchdown in No. 8 Grand Junction’s 42-14 win over Rocky Mountain on Friday.

But it was the big play that became the Tigers’ hidden joker. On a first-quarter drive, for example, Grand Junction (3-0) faced 98 yards of Stocker Stadium turf. Yet the Tigers had big plans.

“Our goal is to try to get to the 50 in two plays,” Tigers running back Austin Lewis said.

They did more.

First play, quarterback John Wiman ran 56 yards. Next play, Lewis broke a 42-yard touchdown run. Lewis finished with 184 yards on the ground with two rushing touchdowns, his other a 78-yard jaunt.

“I think in that first half we had four or five explosive plays that got us out of some situations,” Tigers coach Robbie Owens said. “That’s something we hadn’t showed. That’s big for us.”

Grand Junction’s defense, led by James Diamanti’s four sacks, kept showing its prowess.

Rocky Mountain’s scores came on an interception return and a Tyler Stevens run in the final minutes.

Early in the fourth quarter, Diamanti chowed on slouching Rocky Mountain offensive linemen. On consecutive plays, he recorded two sacks and a tackle for a loss of eight yards.

“They were coming off the ball fast to begin with,” Diamanti said. “But they started slowing down and letting me run them over.”

But hold up. Grand Junction did not leave completely healthy. Wiman suffered a sprained right ankle when, in the third quarter, he corralled an off-target snap and was sacked. Dr. Rich Price of Rocky Mountain Orthopedics said the sprain is minor, however, and Wiman could play next week at No. 3 Ralston Valley.

Even worse, Grand Junction starting fullback and defensive end Theron Verna suffered a severe ankle injury.

“I’m nervous the ankle is broken,” Price said. “His ankle is huge.”

Some good news, though: The Tigers offense also flashed some ability to throw. In particular, Wiman was 5 for 7 with 52 yards.

“We’re trying to throw the ball a little more because we know we have to,” Owens said. “Teams are packing the box, so we have to be as efficient as possible when we decide to throw.”

Grand Junction’s defense also had some big plays from defensive end Austin Berk, who recovered a fumble and, when the Lobos went for it on fourth-and-two at its own 49-yard line, jumped and batted down a pass.

The 6-foot-5 Berk is just another addition to the Tigers’ formidable defense.

“We think we’ve got probably the best defense in the state,” Diamanti said.

Rocky Mountain coach Mark Brook said the Tigers have one of the best lines on offense and defense he has seen.

“Absolutely,” Brook said. “They’re very good up front. And they’re a well-coached team and a disciplined football team.”

Brook said Rocky Mountain (0-2) did not tackle well, and with the wide holes for Lewis and Wiman and Heinsma, it added up to big-play fireworks.

So, how is Grand Junction shaping up against the state’s best?

“We’ll see how good we really are,” Owens said, “next week against Ralston Valley.”


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