Nearly a special victory: Blocked field goal gives GJ a chance vs. Falcons
The play happened so quickly, Andy Willett almost forgot what to do.
With Highlands Ranch looking to add a field goal to its lead Thursday night at Stocker Stadium, the Grand Junction High School special teams came up with a potential game-changing play.
Senior Andrew Duff blocked the 27-yard attempt — with his face. The loose ball fell in front of Willett, who nearly tossed the ball back to the official before realizing it was a live ball and sprinting down the sideline. Willett was caught from behind and Highlands Ranch held on to defeat the Tigers 17-10.
“It was just first game jitters — almost,” Willett said. “I was like, ‘Oh, wait.’ First game, brain fart.
“We needed to capitalize on that. Unfortunately we didn’t, it could’ve been the difference in the game, but it happens. We changed the momentum for a little bit, which was needed.”
Grand Junction coach Robbie Owens said special teams can make a difference and it nearly did.
“It’s one of those things,” he said. “You’re trying to get in the flow of the game and you’ve got to realize these guys have a little bit to learn. That’s an example where we have to convert on offense and score.”
Instead of capitalizing on the turnover, Grand Junction (0-1) had to punt.
Highlands Ranch (1-0) took its time running the ball and ran off more than eight of the 12 minutes in the fourth quarter with a 19-play, 43-yard drive, but turned the ball over on downs.
“The penalties were hurting us, they were shifting a little bit and our kids were jumping offsides,” Highlands Ranch coach Darrel Gorham said. “I thought, overall, staying with it and moving the chains gave us a good opportunity to see if we can move down the field. The thing is we can’t keep sputtering. We were in the red zone I don’t know how many times and couldn’t get it in (the end zone).”
The Tigers had a little more than three minutes left to try to tie the game and moved into Highlands Ranch territory, but Grand Junction quarterback Sean Rubalcaba was sacked twice. The Falcons ran out the clock.
When the Tigers weren’t turning the ball over on downs, they were simply turning the ball over.
Grand Junction had four turnovers, including three on its first three possessions of the game.
“We just couldn’t keep consistent,” Owens said. “We had a few three-and-outs. We’ve got to be able to drive the ball better. We’ve got to get first downs and keep our defense off the field. We have a lot to improve on offense.”
Highlands Ranch converted an up-for-grabs pass into an interception and Joe Hansley ran for a 55-yard touchdown, giving the Falcons a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
Jerreon Dennis scored on a 3-yard run early in the second quarter to tie the game, but Hansley scored again on a 14-yard run.
Highlands Ranch kicker Joey Kloss added a 32-yard field goal with 2:40 left for a 17-7 lead.
Grand Junction’s Tyler Winder was able to sneak in a 29-yard field goal on the final play before half to get the Tigers within one touchdown.
The second half was a defensive show with both sides bending, but not breaking.
Highlands Ranch got into scoring territory three times, but came up with nothing.
“We played so well on defense,” Owens said. “I’m so proud of what we did on defense. They kept us in it. That’s normally a game against a 5A team in Denver, we get crushed. Coach (Brandon) Harrison, Coach (Bill) Godsil, Coach (Justin) Peters did such a good job of getting those guys ready.”