GJ’s season finally takes shape
Tigers healthy entering Class 5A playoffs
In many ways, the Grand Junction High School football team is starting to look like the outfit it thought it could be.
After a season full of mixing and matching healthy personnel, the Tigers are about as healthy as they can be heading into the first round of the Class 5A playoffs against No. 7 Chaparral today at Burt.com Stadium in Parker.
“It’s do or die right now and in the playoffs, anything can happen,” said Grand Junction quarterback Sean Rubalcaba, who missed much of the season with a leg injury. “We have to come out ready to play and hopefully win.”
After missing the postseason in 2008, making the playoffs was a goal Tigers coach Robbie Owens set heading into his second year with the program.
“Initially I don’t feel we’ve made as many strides as I thought we would,” Owens said. “But when you realize we’ve played four quarterbacks, that’s not a recipe for success. I felt like one of our goals heading into the season was to make the 5A playoffs, and now we’ve made it and we have a renewed focus as a coach and as a team.”
Despite finishing with only three wins, the Tigers were seeded No. 26 because of the tough early season schedule the Tigers played. In the first three weeks, Grand Junction lost to Arvada West (No. 5 seed), Pomona (No. 3) and Highlands Ranch (No. 11). In addition to the difficult schedule, the Tigers were forced to play the first six games without Rubalcaba, who fractured his left leg during a preseason scrimmage.
“We had the quarterback situation, which put us at a little of a disadvantage,” Owens said. “But we’ve had our opportunities in all of those games.”
Rubalcaba has since returned, and after shaking off some rust, he played his best all-around game last week in a 28-21 loss to Montrose.
The sophomore quarterback completed 16 of 30 passes for 155 yards and ran for 55 yards.
Having Rubalcaba at quarterback has allowed two playmakers who had to fill in for Rubalcaba at quarterback to return to their natural positions. Junior running back Andy Willett ran for more than 100 yards against Durango.
Senior Jayke Brock is now the fulltime tailback after playing two games at quarterback against Skyline and Cherry Creek.
“I think the passing game we showed on Friday night was the passing game we expected to have all year,” Owens said. “Sean hasn’t gotten that playing time he needed but he distributed the ball well and we were able to do some things in the passing game.”
Rubalcaba’s return has helped Brock, who was bottled up at times early in the season. Since Rubalcaba returned against Durango, Brock has rushed for season highs of 144 yards against Montrose and 181 against Central. In each game, he more than 20 carries, which Owens sees as a plus.
“We have to find a way to get Jayke involved,” Owens said. “Against these Denver teams you don’t want to get to a point where they think they can have a feeding frenzy and blitz the heck out of us. You have to be able to run the ball to limit what the defense can do.”