New-look Tigers break through with first victory

TYLER PALMER TRIES TO BREAK a tackle Friday on a kickoff return, setting up one of Grand Junction’s touchdowns.

Remember that Grand Junction football team the first three weeks of the season?

It was a young team that had no offense, no defense and essentially no hope.

Forget that team, because the past two weeks, the Tigers have looked like a completely different group.

After losing in the final seconds against Fruita Monument last week, the Tigers came out Friday afternoon at Stocker Stadium and powered their way to a 30-21 win over Skyline.

“I think last week we learned how to compete. It was a terrible way to lose but at least we competed, which we didn’t do in the first three weeks,” Grand Junction coach Robbie Owens said after picking up his first victory as the Tigers’ head coach. “In this game we learned how to win, and we didn’t play great at times, but at least we came away with a victory.”

The Tigers’ offense looked better than it has all season.

Freshman quarterback Sean Rubalcaba continued to mature and running back Jayke Brock had his best game of the season, rushing for 227 yards on 33 carries.

Brock wasted no time, busting off 18- and 21-yard carries on his first two touches of the game behind the line of Matt Wilkinson, Andrew Harbert, Shawn Ryden, Ethan Minnick and Hayden Evans.

“We are doing a much better job up front, and when you can run the ball, it opens up a lot of things,” Owens said.

Brock’s seven yards a carry propelled the Tigers’ offense, allowing them to execute their game plan.

“I got into a rhythm and Coach told us that on our first drive, we were going to take off and run the ball straight up the middle,” Brock said. “We proved to ourselves that our hard work is paying off.”

On the first drive, the Tigers got down to the Falcons’ 15 yard line before a holding penalty stalled the drive and forced the Tigers to settle for a Dillon Marshall 31-yard field goal.

After stopping Skyline on its first drive, the Tigers got the ball back, and this time it was Rubalcaba’s turn.

Rubalcaba drove the team 47 yards, going 3 for 4 on the drive ending with a 15-yard pass to Ashur Verna for his first of three touchdown passes on the day.

“I think offensively we have figured it out and caught up with the scheme,” Owens said. “Jayke Brock is playing well and when you have a young quarterback, you can take a little pressure off him with the running game.”

Rubalcaba finished the game going 9 of 11 for 145 yards and also rushed for the Tigers’ second score, which came with five minutes left in the first half and gave the Tigers a 16-0 lead. 

As good as the Tigers’ offense was on Friday, the defense put up a good fight against the Falcons’ power-I running attack. Skyline alternated quarterbacks on every play and rode the legs of Tyler Vavrina to stay in the game.

Vavrina scored the Falcons’ first touchdown with less then a minute left in the first half on a 2-yard run.

On the ensuing kickoff, Tyler Palmer returned the ball to the Falcons’ 43-yard line and two Rubalcaba-to-Verna passes gave the Tigers the 23-7 halftime lead.

“In the Highlands Ranch game, we got behind and I put a lot on Sean and we ended up struggling passing the ball,” Owens said. “So I have simplified things a bit, making his reads a little easier and putting in formations where he knows right away where to throw the ball.”

After cutting the lead to eight points, Skyline couldn’t close the gap further. Grand Junction scored early in the fourth quarter when Rubalcaba connected with Ty Neilson for an 18-yard score.

“We were trying to prove something to everyone in this community that we can do the right stuff and we are not as bad as everyone said,” Brock said. “It is really gratifying to get a win under our belt.”

The Tigers hope to take the confidence earned against the Falcons into next week’s game at Cherry Creek.

“I am happy to get the first win, get it out of the way so it is not hanging over you,” Owens said. “Coming away with a victory always feels good.”


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