Leading the way
Defensive line carries Fruita to key victory
There were several instances Friday night where five or six Fruita Monument defenders would pile up on a Thornton ball carrier.
The Wildcats’ seven- and eight-man fronts stifled the run and pressured the quarterback, causing numerous sacks, negative plays and interceptions in the Wildcats’ 41-16 homecoming victory at Stocker Stadium.
“The defensive line is always going first and setting the tone,” senior linebacker Ty Bird said. “It allows us linebackers to make plays.”
Fruita Monument (3-4, 1-1 4A Mountain Conference) didn’t punt in the first half, with one drive ending in a fumble and a second cut short by halftime.
After stopping Thornton (2-5, 0-2) on its first drive, thanks largely to pressure from the defensive front, Fruita Monument capped a quick and efficient drive with a 1-yard touchdown from Logan Triplett. The fullback shouldered a defender and dove into the end zone to complete an eight-play, 50-yard drive.
The Wildcats stuffed Thornton again, turned the ball over, then forced a three-and-out to give the offense another shot.
“First half was good even though we had some sloppy tackling in the second half,” Fruita Monument coach Todd Casebier said. “That’s the third week our defense has played better and it starts with the defensive line.”
The offense didn’t disappoint, either, scoring on its next two drives. Then the Wildcats started passing with great success.
Senior quarterback Kyle Fineran threw the ball only four times in the first half, completing all of his passes for 104 yards. A 44-yard completion to Travis Newland set up the final touchdown of the first half — a 2-yard run from Triplett.
Despite not attempting a pass in the second half, Fineran’s passing total is a season high. It’s the second-highest passing yardage total by a Fruita Monument quarterback this season.
“It’s just that deal where everybody is loading up to stop the run, so you have some opportunities,” Casebier said. “Our pass protection was good, Kyle put the ball on the money and our receivers made some plays. We’re going to have do that but, again, the reason it works is because we’re able to run the ball.”
The Wildcats continued their surge in the second half, starting with Fineran scrambling 5 yards for a score to put Fruita up 27-0.
The Titans got on the board on their first drive of the second half. Aided by penalties, Thornton capped an 18-play drive with quarterback Alex Plante throwing into tight coverage for a 6-yard touchdown pass to fullback Fred Otero.
Daniel Van Hoose responded by running the ensuing kickoff back for an 89-yard touchdown.
Fruita Monument’s defense, even with little time to rest between drives, still managed to sack, knock down and harass Thornton’s quarterback.
Safety Cade Richardson opened the fourth quarter with an interception and Newland, at the other safety spot, had one before the end of the game.
Newland, a senior, finished with two interceptions — his first gave Fruita short field during a scoring drive in the first half — and credited the entire defense for the big win.
“Our corners locked down the outside receivers so I was able to go after just about whatever,” Newland said. “Defensive line put pressure on the QB so he made some mistakes and the linebackers shut down the run so they had to pass.”
The Wildcats surrendered only 16 yards passing and two completions on nine attempts.
On the offensive end, running back Braeden Graham finished with 116 yards on 14 carries and Triplett had 73 yards and three touchdowns on 14 carries. Fineran ran four times for 47 yards and the Wildcats averaged 6.9 yards per carry.
Casebier said the victory gives Fruita some momentum, but doesn’t relieve any playoff pressure. Fruita Monument, as of late Friday, was ranked No. 16 in the Class 4A RPI, putting it in the final playoff spot in the classification. The Wildcats face Standley Lake next Saturday at Stocker Stadium.
“We’re at home next week and we’ll have an opportunity to improve to 2-1 in league and we need to do that,” Casebier said. “We need to win out to get into the playoffs. That was step one. Step two is next Saturday.”