Grand Junction rolls past Durango in football
They ran, they passed, they played defense, but even more, they flushed the foul memories.
As it continued to develop its identity Saturday night, the Grand Junction High School football team dominated Durango 49-10 at Stocker Stadium, enacting a running clock early in the third quarter.
The Tigers (5-2, 1-1 Southwestern Conference) had two 100-yard rushers, running back Austin Lewis (113 yards) and quarterback Tyler Heinsma (125). Tigers receiver Kaleb Johnson had three touchdown runs on misdirection plays.
“The biggest thing is we’ve been playing down to our competition all year,” Grand Junction coach Robbie Owens said. “We know if we play the way we’re capable, we’re a very tough football team. And last week we weren’t ourselves, and Fruita was ready to play and did a good job, and we just didn’t respond when we needed to. ... but I think it was something that propelled us into this week.”
Give the Tigers credit: They turned a loss — that 20-14 nightmare to rival Fruita Monument on homecoming last week — into propulsion. And it started early. One first-quarter sequence in particular featured success in three phases.
First the defense: Tigers linebacker Colton Nicholas intercepted Durango quarterback Jeremy Szura at the Durango nine-yard line, and he returned it 47 yards to the Durango 44.
Then the passing game: Heinsma hit Johnson on the sideline for a 24-yard gain.
And finally the run: Dion Martinez, who on his first, nine-yard carry sidestepped a defender before bowling over another, plunged the ball into the end zone from two yards out.
Grand Junction put up 21 points in the first quarter. Johnson and Lewis scored the Tigers’ other first-quarter touchdowns.
And in the end, Grand Junction, behind giant linemen James Diamanti, Kyler Rose and DeShaun Harris, allowed Durango only 35 yards rushing.
“We were a little embarrassed from what Fruita did to us,” said Martinez, also a starter at cornerback. “Our identity is being physical. Of course, we’re a big team, so we have to be physical.”
The Tigers have two SWC games left: At Montrose on Oct. 19 and at Central on Oct. 26.
By the Montrose game, Grand Junction expects to return a pair of important starters: fullback and defensive end Theron Verna (broken fibula) and Colorado State University-bound Austin Berk, who sat out Saturday’s game with a torn ulnar collateral ligament (elbow).
Coupled with new faces at skill positions with Heinsma and Lewis, Grand Junction is looking to peak at the end.
“The regular season, it doesn’t mean a whole lot,” Owens said. “We have to get ready for when the playoffs start. It’s like we have an extended exhibition. We just have to get ready for playoff time. And once we get ready for playoffs we have to be going full sail there.”
Johnson feels like the Tigers are learning about themselves
“We know who we are right now,” said Johnson, who also caught three passes for 45 yards. “Just that loss last week was kind of the low of the year. We needed to step up, and we did.”
Yet, Grand Junction may still be finding itself.
“We haven’t found an identity yet,” Owens said. “I think that’s the disappointing part. The last two years we were real physical with Jerreon (Dennis) and Sean (Rubalcaba) with some big-play ability. ... I’m a lot like Palisade. Palisade, Columbine, when you think of those guys, you know they’re going to play a physical brand of football. I tell these guys a lot about ‘Palisade tough.’ We should be that.”