Tigers’ smashmouth approach stifles ’Cats
Andy Willett walked off the Stocker Stadium football field Saturday night a bit bruised but certainly not battered.
“I was beat up, but seeing the end of the game, it was worth it,” the Grand Junction High School quarterback said.
Willett had just helped his team to a 13-0 victory over cross-valley rival Fruita Monument in the Southwestern Conference opener for both teams.
For a game that was predicted to be a showdown of offenses, it was the defenses that shone.
Grand Junction (1-3, 1-0 SWC) had given up 33.7 points per game in its nonconference losses, not surprising considering the competition the Tigers had faced in their first three games.
Preparing for Fruita Monument’s version of the A-11 offense, the Tigers were ready.
“We thought Arvada West was going to run it (in the Tigers’ opener),” Grand Junction coach Robbie Owens said.
To that end, they had been preparing to defend that offense since the offseason.
Still, they didn’t alter their plan of attack much from what they’d done through their first three games.
“We really stayed in out base defense but said ‘we’ve got to get physical,’ ” Owens said.
That was the word of the week: physical.
“We had to make this a physical game,” Owens said.
Both teams had effective opening drives, the Wildcats moving 42 yards to the Tiger 23 before a missed field goal ended the scoring threat.
Grand Junction scored on its first possession, moving from its own 20 to the Fruita Monument 7. From there, Willett faked a handoff and kept it over left tackle, taking it to the end zone.
That’s when both defenses made some on-field adjustments and stiffened.
After gaining three first downs on its first drive, Fruita Monument (2-2, 0-1 SWC) gained only one first down the rest of the way, including none in the second half. That was because, in part, of the loss of quarterback Zach Thorpe to a leg injury when he was sacked midway through the third quarter.
It was also because of what the Tiger defense was allowing the Wildcats, which was very little.
“We all did our responsibilities,” Tigers junior defensive end Casey Walker said.
He was chief among them, keeping the Fruita Monument running game between the tackles all night.
“It was my job to contain this week,” Walker said.
For the game, Fruita Monument had negative rushing yardage and completed 8 of 12 passes for only 40 yards.
Offensively, the Tigers stuck to their ground game.
On that side of the ball as well, “We wanted it to be a physical game,” Owens said.
Willett gained 144 yards on 22 carries. Running back Jayke Brock, who was held to 17 yards on 11 carries in the first half, broke loose for 64 yards in the second half and scored the game’s final touchdown from 1 yard out with six seconds remaining.
Owens made an adjustment at halftime and moved defensive ends Walker and Ethan Minnick into the backfield as blockers, a plan that was effective.
“We were able to run the ball a lot better,” Willett said of the Tigers’ incremental improvement from week to week.
Playing its first three games against teams that are now a combined 9-1, “We faced some adversity,” Owens said.
That first victory made it seem less of a roadblock and more of a building block.