Wildcats optimistic for future after loss
The Fruita Monument seniors felt they had answered a question that followed them all season: Would they be pushed around in the Southwestern Conference?
Now, after the No. 33-seeded Wildcats’ 21-16 loss to No. 34 Heritage in a Class 5A non-qualifier game Saturday, there was only one question to answer as they faced a half-dozen cameras at Stocker Stadium.
“Which camera do we look at?” one senior said.
“All of them.”
The season was over for Fruita (4-6), and although the Wildcats barely missed qualifying for the 32-team state playoffs, they felt they had proved their place in the state’s biggest classification.
“We showed we can compete at 5A,” senior linebacker Cody Daniels said. “And I hope this showed the underclassmen this goes by fast and you can’t play high school football your whole career. I’m putting money that they’ll win the SWL next year.”
For one, Fruita will return junior running back Vince Grasso, who rushed 23 times for 193 yards and two touchdowns, including a 66-yard jaunt on the Wildcats’ first offensive play.
Spencer Fair, a 6-foot-6 kicker, should return as well for his senior season. His 31-yard field goal in the third quarter left Fruita down 21-16.
But despite a pair of goal-line stands and a missed Heritage field goal, the Wildcats couldn’t take the lead.
For Heritage, BJ Haynes had 114 yards rushing and a 31-yard touchdown run.
As has been the case in its past four games, turnovers cost Fruita. The Wildcats had the ball at their own 20 with 4 minutes remaining, but an interception allowed Heritage (4-6) to drain the majority of the clock.
Fruita had 14 turnovers in its final four games.
As will be the case in the parents’ final senior photos, however, the only memories that remain may be of an extensive group of seniors who say they played as family.
“I’m thankful to have been around these guys,” Fruita coach Sean Mulvey said. “I’m happy with the way they competed.”
Some seniors, such as Daniels, will likely play in college. Daniels said he is being evaluated by Colorado Mesa University, CSU-Pueblo, Fort Lewis, Drake and Southern Nazarene University.
But for many, this game was their last.
Wildcats senior defensive tackle Jesse Petek plans to trade his spikes for spurs. The 210-pounder plans on a career in rodeo.
“Hopefully, rodeo will match up to this team because it was great,” Petek said. “We proved we can stick with any team, come out compete, and we darn sure left it all out on the field.”
Fruita will lose eight starters on defense.
They turned in a final goal-line stand late in the third quarter after the Wildcats fumbled the ball away at their own 27.
Heritage drove to the 2, but Fruita pushed the Eagles back six yards before an incomplete pass gave the Wildcats the ball back.
“I can’t say enough about them,” Mulvey said. “They’ve made so much progress the last four years — I’ve learned a lot from them on and off the field.”
Before he left a field of distraught seniors, hugging and waving and posing for pictures, Daniels paused to scan the stadium a final time.
“I’m going to miss the lights for sure,” he said. “I can’t say enough about the Fruita community. There’s no place like Fruita Monument. No place like it.”