What happens when a high-powered offense and a veteran defense clash? And what happens when you add a new league rivalry in the teams’ first-ever encounter?
No doubt about it — this Friday’s game between Grand Junction Central and Vista Ridge has all the fixings for an exciting 4A South opener.
Grand Junction Central’s spread offense averages nearly 400 yards per game, led by quarterback Max Marsh, who already has more than 1,000 passing yards on the season and eight touchdowns.
The Warriors also have a core of six dangerous receivers with more than 100 yards, led by Cade Balleweg with 351 receiving yards.
“For us, we just try to come out and play our game,” Vista Ridge coach Jerimi Calip said. “Obviously when you play against a spread team there are going to be some big plays, so you have to minimize those.”
But Vista Ridge boasts a veteran defense that has five players with more than 33 tackles. The Wolves’ defense is led by senior Carter Bussone, who last year was ranked among the top seven defenders with 144 tackles. He currently leads the team in pulling down 54 tackles, followed by Ryan Poolman with 45. Junior Emmanuel Taylor leads the team with 10.5 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks, and 6-foot-2, 253-pound DeOnte Washington has 9.5 TFL and four sacks.
“Right now we have several guys on our defense who are playing good football,” Calip said. “And a lot of those guys, over the course of five weeks, have really, really grown and are much farther than they were at the end of last season.”
While the Warriors found an offensive rhythm in September, averaging 29.6 points per game, the Vista Ridge defense allowed just 17.25 points per game on average in September.
But Grand Junction Central will have a new challenge this Friday, as the team has to prepare for battle after a lengthy road trip — five hours and 16 minutes, with no traffic, to be exact.
The Warriors have had five straight home games to start the season, and will need to wash off the road dust quickly to take on a hungry Vista Ridge team.
Last week Vista Ridge suffered a fourth-quarter collapse against Ponderosa after playing three solid quarters against the No. 5 Mustangs.
“That was a tale of two good football teams playing each other and the one who makes the least mistakes wins,” Calip said. “When you’re entering into big football games against the Grand Junction Centrals, the Pine Creeks and other teams in our league, you can’t take anything for granted and you play mistake-free football.”
While the Wolves’ defense will need to stop an offense full of weapons, Vista Ridge has a new face under center, and a number of threats of its own.
Senior quarterback Payton Kaiser is in his first varsity season and has already racked up more than 820 passing yards and six touchdowns.
“Peyton is a very, very relentless competitor and you can see it on Fridays when he plays,” Calip said. “Just watching him understand progressions and get better at understanding what defenses are trying to do, it’s actually pretty fun to watch.”
His top receivers are Keyon Burris and Micah Hilts, who each have more than 250 yards receiving, followed by Josh Norman with 120. Emmanuel Garcia leads the charge on the ground with 302 rushing yards.