Tigers hang tough, but fall to Greeley West

It came down to an elbow and inches for the Grand Junction High School football team Thursday night.

A pair of penalties by Greeley West near halftime gave the Tigers the ball at the Spartans’ 33-yard line with no time on the clock. Grand Junction quarterback Clay Payne made the most of the opportunity, rolling to his left and firing a high-arcing pass to Camden Dottson. The receiver high-pointed the ball and made the catch with a defender draped on him as momentum carried them toward the goal line. Dottson and the defender slid well past the line, but he was ruled down inches outside the end zone at the close of the first half.

Instead of tying the game 14-14, the Tigers trailed 14-7 and eventually fell to Greeley West 20-7 at Stocker Stadium.

“Yeah, I felt like we were in,” Grand Junction coach Mike Sirko said of the first half’s final play. “You do what you gotta do and that’s just one of those things. We played hard, played against a top team in 4A and we battled them hard. A play here, a play there, we’re in this baby. I’m proud of these kids, proud of the way they battled, proud of their effort. Got a lot of young bucks out there and the few seniors we do have are stepping up.”

Payne, a senior, was a big part of Grand Junction’s competitiveness.

The quarterback had the Tigers’ only touchdown, sneaking in from 1 yard out to cut Greeley West’s lead to 14-7 with 1 minute, 7 seconds remaining in the first half. He set up the play by connecting with junior receiver Kade Christensen on a 16-yard completion that moved the Tigers (1-5) into the red zone. The Spartans (4-2) drilled Payne, once again rolling to his left, but he planted his feet, took the hit, and delivered a dart.

Payne completed 11 of 20 passes for 110 yards, taking multiple hits from a strong Greeley West pass rush. His favorite target was Marty Huff Jr., who pulled in seven catches for 42 yards.

Sirko said Payne was tough in the face of a strong defense.

“He hung in there,” Sirko said. “He’s done that for us all year and we’re proud of him. Really proud of him.”

Greeley West’s first two drives ended in touchdowns, both scored by running back DJ Starks. The first was a 10-yard touchdown on an inside run to cap an 11-play, 74-yard drive late in the first quarter. Starks scored again midway though the second quarter, taking a sweep 17 yards for the score.

The Tigers stuffed the Spartans at the goal line to start the second half, getting four stops after Greeley West had first and goal at the 1. Still, the offense couldn’t find traction and the field position ended up hurting the Tigers.

Derek West, the other running back in the Spartans’ three-back offense, used a shifty punt return to set up the offense at Grand Junction’s 29.

That drive ended four plays later when quarterback Aaron Rojas found his tight end, Joseph Piacenza, for a 21-yard touchdown. Grand Junction blocked the PAT, but neither team scored after that.

Starks led all rushers with 117 yards on 17 carries. West had 22 carries for 110 yards.

Grand Junction used several different rushers, led by Jamis Utt’s nine carries for 28 yards.


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