Tigers torment Wildcats
Defense, special teams lift GJ in rivalry game
Special teams and defense were the difference Friday night in Grand Junction’s 63-28 Southwestern Conference football victory over Fruita Monument at Stocker Stadium.
In what is best described as a bizarre first half, Grand Junction (5-1, 1-0 SWC) had two interception returns for touchdowns and recovered four onside kicks to lead the Tigers to a 42-20 halftime lead.
On the second play of the game, Grand Junction defensive back Jack Parsons snagged a Jacob Lynch pass and sprinted in from 45 yards away for the first score.
“I just dropped back into the flat, and he overthrew it,” Parsons said. “Then I just ran as fast as I could.”
Early in the second quarter, Tanner Griffin had a 45-yard TD return of his own to put the Tigers up 35-7.
The onside kick strategy tormented the Wildcats throughout the first half. Three were traditional onside kicks going just over 10 yards, the fourth a pooch kick that dropped into an open hole at the 28-yard line that the Tigers recovered.
Fruita Monument didn’t flinch after giving up the quick score and seeing the first onside kick recovered by the Tigers.
After stopping Grand Junction on fourth down, the Wildcats scored on a 21-yard pass from Lynch to Jake Basinger to tie the game 7-7.
But the Tigers kept the Wildcats’ offense off the field and kept punching in scores.
Leading 42-14 late in the second quarter, the Tigers were stopped at the goal line when Fruita’s Matt Story scooped up a fumble and returned it 86 yards to set up a 2-yard run by offensive-lineman-turned-fullback Ty Schroeder.
The score gave the Wildcats some momentum heading into the half, but any chance of a miraculous comeback was slammed shut when the Tigers scored a pair of TDs to start the third quarter.
On the first score of the third, the Tigers were facing fourth down when quarterback Tyler Heinsma made a great throw with the pass rush bearing down on him. Just before getting popped, the big QB lofted a high, deep pass that dropped into Parsons’ hands in the end zone for a 42-yard touchdown.
Heinsma followed that with a 4-yard pass to James Antonucci to up the lead to 56-20.
Grand Junction coach Robbie Owens said the onside-kick strategy is something the Tigers will keep doing.
“We struggled earlier in the year kicking the ball deep, and last week we tried a new strategy, and this week we expanded that a little,” he said. “It really changed the game and gave us the momentum. Obviously, it’s a good thing for us and we’ll probably expand it a little more in weeks to come.”
Two kickoff returns for touchdowns hurt the Tigers in their lone loss of the year, 66-45 to Ralston Valley.
Offensively, the Tigers were explosive as usual.
Austin Lewis scored on a 13-yard run and had 107 yards on 20 carries.
In the passing game, Heinsma completed 13 of 29 passes for 230 yards and five touchdowns. He missed a few open receivers, but Fruita’s pass rush flushed him out of the pocket on a number of occasions. Heinsma added 82 yards and one TD on the ground.
Parsons finished with 82 yards receiving and two touchdowns, and Theron Verna had 76 yards receiving and a TD.
By giving up two pick-6s and having limited touches on offense in the first half, Fruita Monument (2-4, 0-1 SWC) had to battle from behind throughout.
The Wildcats moved the ball effectively at times. Lynch ended with 149 yards passing and three touchdowns. Basinger had 97 yards receiving and two touchdowns.
Defensively, Josh Schweigart had two interceptions for the Wildcats.
After losing to Fruita Monument last year, Owens said it was nice to get this one.
“Anytime you play a rival it’s a big-time game, and they won last year and that stung a little bit,” Owens said. “(That loss) affected us in the Class 5A playoffs. The biggest thing we tell our kids is that we want to get better each week and get ready for the playoffs.”