Rivals in the rain: Tigers top Wildcats in drizzle-filled game at Stocker Stadium
The Grand Junction High School football team didn’t feel how teams usually do after a big win against a rival, especially one that clinches the conference title.
Friday night at Stocker Stadium, the Tigers (8-1, 3-0 Southwestern Conference) controlled the tempo from start to finish in a 28-10 win over Fruita Monument.
But two turnovers and multiple unfinished drives left the Tigers feeling a little unsatisfied despite winning the SWC title for the first time since 2005.
“At the end of the day, I don’t feel like we played our best game,” Grand Junction coach Robbie Owens said. “In the second half we got complacent and let them stay in the game.”
Grand Junction let the Wildcats hang around, but still played well enough to maintain a 28-3 lead most of the second half. Fruita (3-5, 2-1 SWC) scored its lone touchdown with less than 15 seconds left in the game on a 38-yard pass from Zach Thorpe to Tyler Daniels.
Before that play, the Wildcats had less than 200 yards of total offense.
“We knew they couldn’t run it up the middle on us, but they are fast on the outside, so we had to make sure to keep them between the hashes,” Tigers defensive end Casey Walker said.
“We contained, stayed with our assignments, and played smart, tough football.”
The Wildcats’ attempt to establish the run was met by a swarming Tigers defense. Fruita Monument finished with 128 yards rushing on 34 attempts.
“Our defense plays hard and physical,” Owens said. “They played well and ran around and hit people.”
The Tigers’ defense set up their first touchdown when Tyler Winder intercepted a Thorpe pass at the Wildcats’ 38-yard-line. Grand Junction quarterback Sean Rubalcaba turned the Fruita mistake into a 7-0 lead six plays later on a 7-yard touchdown run.
“They got me on the hitch on the first play,” Winder said. “And I knew they’d be coming with it again because that’s what we saw all week on film.”
Grand Junction was on its way to another touchdown on its next series after Rubalcaba connected with Andy Willett on a 37-yard pass. Running back Jerreon Dennis broke off a 23-yard gain, but fumbled at the end of the run and Fruita recovered.
Dennis made up for the fumble on the Tigers’ next series, and capped a 14-play drive by carrying several Fruita defenders into the end zone on a 7-yard touchdown run. The score midway though the second quarter gave Grand Junction a 14-0 lead.
Rubalcaba had a big first half running the ball, and found room on a 56-yard touchdown run, which gave Grand Junction a 21-0 lead late in the first half.
Rubalcaba had 119 yards in the first half and finished with 168 yards in the game.
“Sean did a great job,” Owens said. “People stack the box and we have to find ways to take advantage of it at all positions.”
The Wildcats’ Martin Zupan responded on the ensuing kickoff with a 55-yard return to the Tigers’ 25-yard line. With two minutes remaining in the half, Fruita ran five running plays and settled for a 27-yard field goal by Daniels.
“Our kids fought hard the whole game,” Fruita Monument coach Shawn Marsh said. “But we didn’t capitalize at times.”
Grand Junction put the game away early in the third quarter with a 3-yard run by Dennis to cap a 13-play drive.
“It’s always a good win against Fruita,” Winder said. “But we have to play Tiger football the whole game.”
Winder finished with three catches for 57 yards, and Dennis had 95 yards rushing on 19 carries.
Thorpe led Fruita with 109 yards passing and 33 yards rushing.
Fruita is hoping to keep its playoff hopes alive next Thursday against Montrose.
“Every game is big for a high school football team, it’ll be our seniors’ last home game and it’s a huge game,” Marsh said. “It’s Thursday, so we’ll have one less day to prepare.”