Dennis gives Chatfield fits in Tigers’ playoff opening win

Grand Junction quarterback Sean Rubalcaba scores a touchdown Friday night during the first half of the Tigers’ 51-17 victory over Chatfield at Stocker Stadium. The Tigers advanced to the second round of the Class 5A playoffs, where they’ll face Chaparral.

Grand Junction running back Jerreon Dennis runs down the sideline Friday night on his way to a touchdown during the first half of the Tigers’ 51-17 victory over Chatfield during the first round of the Class 5A football playoffs at Stocker Stadium.

With cuts on his elbows and gashes in his helmet, Jerreon Dennis walked away from Grand Junction’s 51-17 win Friday over Chatfield as the man who snapped the Tigers from their slumber.

When Chatfield took a 10-point lead in the first quarter of the first-round Class 5A state playoff game,  Dennis entered at linebacker and knocked offensive linemen off their assignments. The Chargers didn’t score another point until the Tigers had put up 41 unanswered.

And on the first play of the second half, after Grand Junction coach Robbie Owens decided to scrap everything fancy, there was Dennis — gone for a 63-yard touchdown run.

Second-half adjustment?

It was more like the Tigers (10-0) dashing through defenses as usual to advance to the second round at Chaparral 7 p.m. next Friday.

Chaparral defeated Westminster 49-8.

Dennis finished with 207 yards on the ground and four touchdowns.

“Honestly, No. 1 (Dennis) is a stud,” Chatfield coach Bret McGatlin said. “When you’re a championship-level team, you run the ball down the defense’s throat. I don’t know if it was an adjustment.

“Just, ‘Hey, we’re going to kick your butt,’ is what they did,” McGatlin said.

Second-seeded Grand Junction continued to kick No. 31 Chatfield (3-7) until a cold front sent leaves sprinting across Stocker Stadium and the Tigers were comfortably ahead 41-10 in the third quarter.

But the real wake-up call did not come from nature; it came from Chatfield running back and track-and-field sprint standout Erik Gaytan, who on the game’s opening drive, ran for 28 yards to set up a Chargers field goal.

After Grand Junction lost a fumble on a handoff from Sean Rubalcaba to Dennis, Chatfield hit double digits on a Gaytan 3-yard TD run.

Chatfield 10, Grand Junction 0.

Good morning, Tigers.

“We needed the wake-up,” said Grand Junction wide receiver and defensive back Chandon Rose, who had an interception and pass deflection that broke up a possible touchdown. “When they score on you, it wakes you up. And we know from now on it’s win or go home.”

If Chatfield’s early lead was the rooster’s crow, Rubalcaba added the eggs and coffee, rushing for 132 yards, including a 73-yard touchdown run in the second quarter to put the Tigers ahead 21-10.

“I think our kids take it for granted being a high seed and having a home game,” Owens said. “We thought we could just show up. You’ve got to give Chatfield credit, they came out ready to go. We got out-coached in all three phases of the game and we definitely have to play better.”

In addition to a season-low 22 offensive plays in the first half, Owens was particularly surprised that Rubalcaba and Dennis fumbled two handoff exchanges.

Owens knows that cannot happen against Chaparral and other prospective opponents.

“If we keep doing that as we move along,” Owens said, “we’ll be out after the first quarter.”

Still, the Tigers had 406 yards rushing and a defense that held Chatfield to seven points after the first quarter.

And they had Dennis, who didn’t need smelling salts to revive his teammates in the first quarter when, with the Tigers down 10, he ran over two defenders and shed two other tackles on a 53-yard touchdown run.

After that, the Tigers were up and at ‘em.


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