Turnovers end GJ’s season
LAKEWOOD — The 48 minutes of the Grand Junction High School football team’s first-round Class 5A playoff game Friday was merely a microcosm of the Tigers’ 2012 season.
Grand Junction hung with Columbine through the better part of the game, matching the Rebels drive for drive.
In the end, however, turnovers and mistakes in the kicking game spelled doom as the Tigers’ season came to an end 37-20 at Jefferson County Stadium.
“It definitely has been the story of our season,” Grand Junction coach Robbie Owens said of mistakes negating solid offensive and defensive efforts by the Tigers (6-4).
Take, for instance, the game’s opening possession. The Tigers had a seven-play possession. It culminated with a fumbled snap on a fourth-down punt attempt, and the Rebels (7-3) recovered at the Grand Junction 24-yard line.
Four plays later, with less than three minutes gone, Columbine led 7-0.
The Tigers moved the ball well on their second drive, going 42 yards to the Rebels’ 34 in six plays. But on a first-and-10 run, Tigers running back Dion Martinez fumbled, setting up a nine-play Columbine drive that resulted in a 23-yard field goal and a 10-0 Rebel lead.
As has been the custom, the Tigers battled from behind, moving 35 yards in six plays midway through the second quarter. Backup running back Theron Verna took a handoff up the middle, broke to his left and scampered 18 yards to put Grand Junction on the board. Another season-long malady occurred, however, when the Tigers missed the extra point.
The kicking game continued to plague Grand Junction. It had a chance to cut its deficit to one point as the first half expired, but a 25-yard field goal attempt was blocked.
If turnovers were the problem in the first half, giving up the big play on defense was the issue in the second half.
Rebels quarterback Michael Burns, who had just two yards rushing in the first half, broke off a 54-yarder up the middle less than two minutes into the third quarter to pad Columbine’s lead at 17-6.
Still, the Tigers showed the ability to move the ball, mounting a seven-minute drive with quarterback Tyler Heinsma diving over from the 1-yard line. A two-point conversion pulled Grand Junction to within three points, 17-14.
The Tigers’ defense, which had kept Rebels rushing leader Bernard McDondle in check through most of three quarters, gave up another big play when the junior running back broke off a 69-yard touchdown run just before the end of the third quarter.
Undaunted, the Tigers again pulled within reach as Heinsma kept the ball on a third-and-8 and ran 13 yards for the score. The kick failed, however, and Grand Junction trailed 23-20.
A 41-yard gain by McDondle, who finished with 203 yards, set up a keeper by Burns from 16 yards out.
The Tigers’ third lost fumble on the ensuing possession sealed the game for Columbine. McDondle hopped over a defender and eluded the rest of the defense for a 31-yard touchdown run to conclude the scoring.
“When we get to playoff football, you can’t make those mistakes,” Owens said of four turnovers, three missed placekick attempts and five defensive plays giving up 30 yards or more. “You’ve got to take advantage of those opportunities. The turnovers and big plays hurt us.”
Senior Austin Berk, who had another strong game at defensive end and caught four passes for 31 yards at tight end, said his team played even with the Rebels, last year’s 5A state champion.
Austin Lewis finished with 223 yards on 24 carries in a workhorse effort.
Berk, who verbally committed to play at Colorado State next fall, reflected on his four years at Grand Junction.
“It’s been great,” he said. “I couldn’t have had a better program to play for. It’s an honor being a Tiger.”