Teeth of the Tigers
Grand Junction's defense blanks Mountain Range
One week after a humbling loss, the Grand Junction High School football team showed it can play defense.
The Tigers’ 14-0 shutout of Mountain Range in their homecoming game Friday night at Stocker Stadium came one week after a 66-45 loss to fourth-ranked Ralston Valley.
“This week we went in with a chip on our shoulder,” Grand Junction senior linebacker Theron Verna said. “You don’t score 45 points and lose the game. That’s ridiculous.
“All the seniors got in Monday and Coach (Robbie Owens) said, ‘What do we need to do?’ We worked on our defense as hard as we could. Coach came up with a plan. We actually came out to play this week. We hit them early and we hit them hard.”
The Tigers (4-1) got tougher as the game went along, limiting Mountain Range to 137 yards in total offense.
“We’ve been inconsistent,” Owens said. “We blitzed a little bit more because of what they were doing on offense. I think our kids responded. I know our defensive guys. They are smart guys. We have great kids.
“Last week, obviously we thought it was an aberration. They did a great job. Coming out and pitching a shutout is unbelievable.”
The shutout couldn’t have come at a better time for the Tigers, who surprisingly struggled offensively. Their 14 points are the fewest they’ve scored since a 20-14 loss to Fruita Monument last season.
“I knew at some point, and we talk about it all the time, you face some adversity and things aren’t going to click,” Owens said. “We really needed that eye-opening experience.
“They weren’t doing anything special to us. We know what they were doing. We did a good job of making a few adjustments at halftime and played Tiger football.”
The Mustangs’ (3-1) best opportunities came in the first half — the only two times they were inside Grand Junction’s 20. The first time, Grand Junction linebacker James Antonucci intercepted quarterback Andrew Wamsley.
The second time was a result of a fortuitous bounce off a Grand Junction player on a punt. The Mustangs recovered the loose ball on the Junction 25. They got it to the 8, but had to settle for a 32-yard field goal attempt that wobbled short of the crossbar.
“To be honest with you, that was probably the point where we could’ve made a momentum shift,” Owens said. “We know we’re going to get the ball in great field position (on the punt). It was unfortunate the kid didn’t make a good punt. Our kid is hustling down and it hits him in the back.
“That’s where our defense stepped up again and did a great job making sure we got a stop. That was crucial to give us a chance coming into the second half.”
The Tigers’ offense used the momentum from the missed kick and let Austin Lewis carry them into scoring territory. Grand Junction drove to the 5, but fumbled the ball with 47 seconds left in the first half in a scoreless game.
The Tigers kept the momentum to open the second half.
Grand Junction put together a 15-play, 72-yard drive to take a 7-0 lead on the first series of the third quarter. It took five minutes, 46 seconds.
Lewis carried most of the load with five carries for 35 yards, including the 1-yard score.
“That beginning part of the second half is crucial,” Owens said. “You’ve got to sustain a drive. We went back to basics and do what we do.”
The Tigers nearly scored another touchdown on their next possession when Jack Parsons caught a 37-yard flea-flicker from Tyler Heinsma for a touchdown, but Grand Junction was called for holding. The Tigers had to punt.
Not to be deterred, the Tigers ran a version of the same play on their next series. This time, Heinsma hit Parsons for a 58-yard pass. Lewis scored on a 15-yard run on the next play for a 14-0 lead with 7:57 left in the game.
“It’s the same play, we just flea-flickered it on one,” Owens said. “We ran the next play (but) we didn’t flea-flicker it, we just play-action passed. We knew they were playing us aggressively. We just had to protect and we knew we could throw it over their head.”
Lewis had 24 carries for 168 yards and two touchdowns. Heinsma completed 7 of 13 passes for 71 yards.