Roaring to a victory
Big plays lift Junction past Central
Long scoring play after long scoring play added up to a lopsided victory over winless city rival Central as Grand Junction routed the Warriors 49-7 in Southwestern Conference football Friday.
The win concluded the Tigers’ regular season with a likely third SWC championship in four years as Montrose (8-1, 2-1 SWC) handed Durango (7-2, 3-1) its first league loss Friday, 14-10. If Montrose beats Central (0-9, 0-3) next week, it will create a three-way tie at the top, and Grand Junction (7-2, 3-1) will win the tiebreaker and the title.
“It’s nice to win the SWC, but like Coach Owens has said all year, that’s a step we want to take, but we don’t want that to be the pinnacle of our season,” Tigers senior John Wiman said, referring to the Class 5A playoffs, which begin next weekend, and Grand Junction is in line to host a first-round game.
Being in position to win the conference reflects the determined effort the Tigers made after a 34-33 loss at Durango three weeks ago. The loss stung, but Wiman said the team learned a lesson about playing with intensity all game, never letting down and never playing down to an opponent.
The Tigers displayed that approach Friday against Central. Only after the running clock kicked in midway through the third quarter did Grand Junction send in its reserves.
Central showed some fight early, though, with two good drives in its first three possessions.
The Warriors methodically picked up four first downs and 44 yards to reach the Tigers’ 24-yard line on the game’s opening possession, but a sack by Tanner Griffin set Central back seven yards. On the next play, Wiman intercepted a Wyatt McElwain pass and returned it 27 yards.
Grand Junction then scored on its first play from scrimmage: a 65-yard pass from Tyler Heinsma to Theron Verna, in which Verna juked a defender and won a sprint down the left sideline.
Similarly, the Tigers scored on the second play of their next possession when Heinsma faked a handoff, kept the ball and raced around left end where no Warrior was to be found. It was an easy 89-yard dash for a touchdown for the senior quarterback and a 14-0 lead for Grand Junction.
Central’s response was to take its third possession 71 yards in 11 plays with Triston Dorrington running the final 14 yards to cut the deficit to 14-7.
It was all Grand Junction for the rest of the half, though, with two more big plays sandwiching a more traditional score.
Heinsma, after overthrowing two receivers on deep routes on the previous possession, finally connected on a deep ball, hitting wide-open Dion Martinez down the middle for a 91-yard TD.
The Warriors then turned the ball over on a bad punt snap, which Griffin recovered at Central’s 8, and three plays later Austin Lewis scored on a 1-yard run.
Central got its next punt attempt off, but Kaleb Johnson returned it 58 yards for a score and the 35-7 lead the Tigers took into the intermission.
The third quarter was more of the same from the Tigers. They featured Lewis on all four plays of a 49-yard scoring drive to open the half.
Grand Junction’s next drive appeared to be a comedy of penalties, but even that couldn’t stop the Tigers. Instead of punting for the first time in the game, Grand Junction went for a first down on fourth down with 20 yards to go and got much more. Heinsma hit a wide-open Verna deep on the left side, and Verna raced in with a 59-yard TD for a 49-7 lead that started the running clock.
The loss was another in a long string of them this season for the Warriors, but Central coach Shawn Marsh said he was happy with the effort he got from his players all game. The first quarter in particular was pleasing.
“We put together a quarter,” he said. “That’s part of what we’re working on, and we’re getting better. ... They’re trying to do what we’re teaching them, and I’m proud of them. I don’t care what the scoreboard says.”