GJ Tigers open with powerhouse

Grand Junction defensive end Austin Berk, 86, has recovered from a torn ligament in his left elbow and has four sacks this season. The Tigers open the Class 5A playoffs this afternoon against Columbine.

Grand Junction High School knows its potential, yet it finds itself in a first-round state playoff game against one of the state’s most respected football programs, Columbine.

The Tigers barely lost on the road to No. 3-ranked Ralston Valley. They dominated Front Range teams Prairie View and Rocky Mountain and downed Mountain Vista, 21-17.

Later in the season, however, it wasn’t the Front Range teams Grand Junction had to overcome. It was the boys in its own Grand Valley backyard, Montrose and Fruita Monument, both of whom who defeated the Tigers.

And if Grand Junction (6-3) is to defeat Class 5A perennial power Columbine (6-3) in the teams’ 4 p.m. first-round playoff today at Jefferson County Stadium — and there’s little question the Tigers have the talent, not to mention its gargantuan offensive linemen surrounded by capable skill position players to do so — it needs consistency. And it cannot botch handoffs as it did in a loss at Montrose.

“I think that’s been the ironic thing with our season,” Tigers coach Robbie Owens said. “We’ve had the ability to beat anybody in 5A. Obviously you can’t make mistakes. If we play mistake-free, which everyone wants to do, then we’re as talented as everybody.”

So, will Grand Junction protect the ball and play its best in the playoffs? Or will Columbine?

The Rebels, the defending champion in 5A, have junior Bernard McDondle, who has rushed for 1,289 yards on only 123 carries. Quarterback Tyler Goodwin has completed 21 of 44 passes. Lineman John Lisella has committed to the University of Colorado and is listed at 6-foot-5, 245 pounds. He starts at left tackle on offense and plays some defensive end.

“So they’ve got guys,” Owens said. “The thing with (coach) Andy Lowry is, he’s the ultimate guy that breeds, ‘This is the Columbine way,’ and kids buy into that. Whether it’s former players, current players, they all have that same mentality.”

Grand Junction last season was undefeated heading into the quarterfinals, where it lost at home to Lakewood 36-27.

Cardinals face big challenge

When Grand Valley (8-1) hosts Middle Park (7-2) at 1 p.m. Saturday at Grand Valley High School, it knows it will be going against a team that’s particularly big and physical for its classification.

And Middle Park’s big offensive line will be blocking for Henry Southway, a 110-meter hurdles state champion last season.

But Grand Valley feels as though it has plenty of momentum with four consecutive wins.

“Our only loss in the year is a five-point loss to a state runner-up,” Cardinals coach Mike Johnson said. “We feel like we’ve done what we wanted to do this season, and we’ve earned the spot we’re in now.”

And Grand Valley running back Tanner Zimmerman has piled up 1,486 yards, while quarterback Tyler Scott has 1,145 yards passing and 19 touchdowns.

“We’re playing at a very high level,” Johnson said.

Bruins must stop Centauri QB

After dropping from Class 2A to 1A, Cedaredge not only is a state qualifier, it’s been one of the state’s top-10 ranked teams the majority of the season.

But any playoff run starts with the Bruins’ 1 p.m. game Saturday against Centauri (7-2) at Cedaredge High School.

Cedaredge coach Brandon Milholland said the Falcons run a double-wing offense, led by sophomore quarterback K.C. Jarvies, who Milholland noticed on film can throw the ball effectively as well as run it. Centauri averages 347 yards and 35 points per game.

“We’ve got to elevate our game defensively for sure,” Milholland said.

And Centauri runs various defensive fronts: Sometimes a 4-4, Milholland said, other times a 5-2 with a roving linebacker who might creep to the line.

“And it seems like they bring nine, 10 at you as well,” Milholland said, “so if we can catch them in the blitz when they’re doing that, we need to have the right play called,” Milholland said.

Finally, Milholland said the Bruins are healthy, including junior starting linebacker Peter Williamson, who broke his collarbone during the preseason and returned last week for Cedaredge’s 46-6 win over Paonia.

“He’s back and 100 percent healthy,” Milholland said.

Bulldogs face familiar foe

Hotchkiss (7-2) will meet up with Wiggins (8-1), the team that knocked the Bulldogs out of the state playoffs last season.

Hotchkiss was 11-0 last year heading into the semifinals when Wiggins took a 34-0 lead into halftime. For the game, quarterback Taylor Risner completed 21 of 36 passes for 289 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 110 yards on 15 carries.

Guess what? Risner graduated. In his place this season, however, is senior quarterback Thayer Sauter, who has passed for 463 yards and rushed for 1,576, scoring 20 touchdowns.

It’s revenge time for Hotchkiss, which today will practice at Battle Mountain High School and stay the night in Denver before heading to Wiggins for the teams’ 1 p.m. Saturday kickoff.

“They’re really big, and they’re aggressive,” Hotchkiss coach Zac Lemon said. “They don’t have a lot of kids, but the same 15 kids do everything.”

Hotchkiss still is waiting for its breakout game, Lemon said.

“We still haven’t played our best,” he said, “and we’re hoping it’s coming now and we peak at the right time.”


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