SPORTS STORIES OF 2010: Grand Junction’s playoff run shows growth of program

Grand Junction running back Jerreon Dennis runs for gain Oct. 15 during the third quarter of the Tigers’ victory over the Montrose Indians. Grand Junction’s success is The Daily Sentinel’s No. 10 Sports Story of 2010.

Grand Junction High School football coach Robbie Owens heard what people were saying after the Tigers won only three games each of his first two seasons.

“When you aren’t successful people question me and question what we are doing,” Owens said. “People were saying we should have never started (quarterback) Sean Rubalcaba as a freshman.”

In 2010, the pessimists faded away.

Owens led the Tigers to a 10-2 record and run into the quarterfinals of the Class 5A state playoffs.

The Tigers’ success was voted the No. 10 local sports story of 2010.

Rubalcaba, now a junior, was selected the Southwestern Conference offensive player of the year and combined for 2,771 yards of offense and 30 touchdowns.

“We had a lot of young guys playing two years ago, but we played guys who we knew were going to be there,” Owens said. “We turned a corner and it’s what we envisioned.”

Grand Junction had high hopes for the season, but lost its season opener 17-10 to Highlands Ranch.

The Tigers then ripped off eight straight wins to finish the season 8-1. Grand Junction swept the Southwestern Conference, going 4-0 and not allowing a team to get closer than 18 points.

Grand Junction earned the No. 10 seed in the playoffs and won its opening round home game 63-26 over Northglenn, the first victory for a District 51 team in the Class 5A playoffs.

In the second round, the Tigers avenged that early loss with a 35-28 win over Highlands Ranch. The victory against the Falcons was a sign of just how far the Tigers had come.

Two years earlier, Highlands Ranch beat the Tigers 42-7 in the third game of the season.

“That first game against Highlands Ranch (in 2008) was one of the low points of my coaching career,” Owens said. “So to beat them in the playoffs said a lot about the development and growth we made as a program.”

The season came to a disappointing end against Regis Jesuit in the quarterfinals. The Raiders won the game 24-21 with nine seconds left on a 37-yard pass to Connor McKay.

The Tigers were rewarded with nine All-SWC first-team selections, including defensive lineman Casey Walker, who was voted defensive player of the year.

Owens was co-coach of the year.

The season didn’t come without controversy, though. The Tigers spent the first five games under restriction from the Colorado High School Activities Association for violating a CHSAA bylaw when eighth-graders were allowed to participate with the high school players in an offseason program.

Had the Tigers remained on restriction, they would have been ineligible for postseason play.

“To not have this over our heads is a good feeling,” Owens said after the restriction was lifted in October. “We can go forward.”

The Tigers are on probation until October of 2011.


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