Grand Junction unable to rally on the road
ARVADA — The last time Grand Junction’s football team tasted defeat in the regular season, it was in 2010, when the Tigers lost to Highlands Ranch in their season opener.
More than two years had passed since then as Grand Junction rattled off 20 consecutive regular-season victories. Hitting the road Friday for the first time this season, the Tigers saw that run come to an end thanks to a smash-mouth Ralston Valley rushing attack and a pair of big plays on special teams.
The Mustangs took the lead for good late in the third quarter on their way to a 23-15 victory over Grand Junction at the North Area Athletic Complex.
“It’s a little bit of a humbling thing for our guys because it’s something we take pride in,” Tigers coach Robbie Owens said of the regular-season run. “We’ve got such a great group of kids, and they’re going to come back fighting. Streaks are great, but again, those don’t mean anything either.”
After Ralston Valley (3-1) went ahead 17-15 on a 36-yard field goal by Will Hellrung, a Grand Junction fumble in the final minute of the third quarter set up the Mustangs’ last score. Ralston Valley needed only four plays to go 14 yards, with Jakob Buys punching the ball in from a yard out to make it 23-15 after the two-point attempt failed.
The Tigers (3-1) used a 35-yard pass from quarterback Tyler Heinsma to Jack Parsons to help march the ball 60 yards on their next possession, but Heinsma’s pass into the end zone was intercepted by Matt Hestera.
Ralston Valley ran off eight consecutive plays on the ground to eat up yardage and the clock, eventually punting on fourth down. Quarterback Jacob Knipp’s punt rolled to the Tigers’ 1-yard line, where it was downed with three minutes, 47 seconds remaining.
It was the second time a punt made a difference in the game. Ralston Valley blocked a punt in the second quarter to set up the Mustangs’ first touchdown.
A bad snap set up a fourth-and-21 situation from the team’s own 5. Heinsma connected with Kaleb Johnson, who was tackled a yard short of the first down.
Buys, who rushed for 65 yards in the second half, ran out the clock from there as the Mustangs bounced back from last week’s loss to ThunderRidge.
“It was awesome. Grand Junction’s a great team, there’s no doubt about that,” Buys said. “We came out and we took care of business, and it felt great.”
Heinsma completed nine of 15 passes for 118 yards and rushed for 59 more and a pair of scores. Austin Lewis had 128 yards on 18 carries for the Tigers.
Knipp was 12 of 20 for 169 yards. His only completion of the second half was a 53-yard touchdown pass to Jon Baumann only 50 seconds after Grand Junction had retaken the lead on a six-yard Heinsma touchdown run.
Ralston Valley switched to the ground from there, operating out of a tight formation while feeding Buys the ball repeatedly up the middle.
“They’re an awfully big team,” Mustangs coach Matt Loyd said. “We knew a lot of their guys were going both ways, so we just knew if we just kept plugging away, getting good yards, we felt like we could wear them down a little bit.”
Grand Junction wraps up nonconference play next Friday at Mountain Range in Westminster before hosting Fruita Monument on Sept. 28. Having faced a tough test on the road with Ralston Valley should make the squad that much better the next time around.
“They went through the ThunderRidge game,” Owens said. “This is kind of the first contest that we had to come out there and really fight. We can do much better than that.”