Stability with Sean: Rubalcaba has Tigers playing with confidence

Grand Junction quarterback Sean Rubalcaba has the Tigers playing in new territory this season. Rubalcaba has been held back in past years by injuries, but is showing what he can do when he’s healthy this season.


Grand Junction at Highlands Ranch

Class 5A Playoffs

Friday, 7 p.m., Shea Stadium, Littleton


RECORDS: Grand Junction 9-1; Highlands Ranch 8-2

LAST WEEK: Grand Junction defeated Northglenn 63-26; Highlands Ranch defeated Fairview 21-7.

GAME NOTES: Both programs are trying to advance to the Class 5A state quarterfinals for the first time since the playoffs expanded to 32 teams. Grand Junction won its first Class 5A playoff game in school history last weekend.

Junior Joe Hansley leads Highlands Ranch in rushing (911 yards) and receiving (20 catches for 313 yards). The Falcons average 24.1 points a game and allow 15.8 per game. Their two losses came to No. 8 seed Chaparral (42-0) and No. 2 seed Regis (28-25). The Tigers are averaging 39.7 points a game and scored a Class 5A playoff high 63 points last week. Grand Junction’s defense has allowed 12.7 points per game, including a season-high 26 last week. The Grand Junction-Highlands Ranch winner plays the winner of Regis (10-0) and Arapahoe (6-3) in the quarterfinals.

Highlands Ranch defeated Grand Junction 17-10 in the season opener Sept. 2 at Stocker Stadium. Hansley rushed for 141 yards and two touchdowns in the Falcons’ victory. Grand Junction quarterback Sean Rubalcaba struggled with a thumb injury on his right hand, completing 4 of 11 passes for 29 yards and was intercepted three times. Running back Jerreon Dennis only played on defense.

Grand Junction High School football coach Robbie Owens saw a special talent in Sean Rubalcaba when the two became a part of the program two years ago.

The quarterback, though, has been plagued by injuries. It wasn’t until this season he’s been able to show what he can do.

“His freshman year, he showed a lot,” Owens said. “You don’t see very many guys come into 5A football and have a freshman quarterback perform the way he did. He made such strides between his freshman and sophomore year. We were excited what he was going to do. It was unfortunate he got hurt.

“What we’re starting to see now is the gains he’s made from the first game to now is what we expected last year. I had two people talk to me last weekend and said he looked like a college quarterback. That tells you the maturation he went through to get himself ready.”

A healthy Rubalcaba has the Tigers in new territory.

Grand Junction (9-1) won its first Southwestern Conference title in five years, earned its first Class 5A first-round home playoff game and won its first Class 5A playoff game. The Tigers play Highlands Ranch (8-2) in the second round at 7 p.m. on Friday at Shea Stadium in Littleton.

“It feels great,” Rubalcaba said. “When you come back from an injury like a broken leg, it’s always in the back of your head where you don’t want to try to do too much. You’re cautious about re-injuring something.”

He struggled in the first game of the season against Highlands Ranch, a 17-10 loss.

“Highlands Ranch is a good team,” Rubalcaba said. “First-game jitters are always there. We didn’t click offensively very well. Going back to experience, you learn to play with the guys.

“After the game we checked ourselves and made the greatest improvements since that game, what we need to do to become better and win games. Offensive line, there was some confusion. I didn’t have a good game.”

Rubalcaba might have pressed a little too much in that game.

“He put a lot of pressure on himself and he hit his hand the first pass play of the game,” Owens said. “It was kind of swollen up and he had a hard time gripping the ball.

“I also think Sean put a lot of pressure on himself. He wanted to play well coming off that injury year. We had a long talk after that. He’s got to be who he is.

“We didn’t throw the ball a lot when he first got hurt because he was having a hard time gripping (the ball). Now, he’s 100 percent healthy and you can see what he brings to the table.”

Rubalcaba has the ability to not only pass the ball, but he can run.

He has completed 72 of 114 passes for 1,275 yards with 13 touchdowns and has rushed for 1,053 yards and 13 touchdowns. He completed 11 of 12 passes for 309 yards and four touchdowns in the Tigers’ 63-26 victory last week.

“Everything we do revolves around the quarterback position and getting ourselves in the best situation possible,” Owens said. “The problem we have on the Western Slope is when you get a kid injured like Sean, it doesn’t only affect that position, but it affects other positions.

“We had to move guys around. It hurts you because you don’t have the depth. He knows our offense, our philosophy and can go out there and do it.”

Rubalcaba said his success was simply a matter of getting game experience.

“You can take mental reps, but nothing equals the game-time experience you get on the field,” he said. “There’s nothing better than bonding with the team.”

Rubalcaba credited the offensive line for its protection, the receivers’ ability to catch the ball and the running backs’ ability to run not only for his success, but the team’s success.

“When you set goals and you reach your goal you feel a sense of joy you made it together as a team,” Rubalcaba said. “You can set more goals to keep on improving.

“We’ll go out with a chip on our shoulder. This is a game where we can prove that Western Slope teams can play with anyone across the state. We’ll go out and give it our best shot.”


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