Ralston Valley takes down Columbine on the gridiron

Dennis Pleuss
Jeffco Public Schools
Posted 10/26/21

LAKEWOOD — Ralston Valley junior Diano Benallo had perhaps the biggest tackle of his life Oct. 22 at Jeffco Stadium. With No. 6-ranked Ralston Valley and No. 5 Columbine locked up in a 14-14 tie …

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Ralston Valley takes down Columbine on the gridiron

Posted

LAKEWOOD — Ralston Valley junior Diano Benallo had perhaps the biggest tackle of his life Oct. 22 at Jeffco Stadium.

With No. 6-ranked Ralston Valley and No. 5 Columbine locked up in a 14-14 tie midway through the third quarter the Rebels line-up to punt on fourth down from midfield. What transpired next was the beginning of a trio of unanswered touchdowns to give Ralston Valley a 35-14 victory.

Columbine senior Wes Jones was lined up to punt the ball away, but a low snap and a free runner from the outside forced him to tuck the ball and run. It looked like Jones would pick up the first down, but Benallo came up to make the tackle three yards short of the line to gain.

“I saw the punter drop the ball and I was going to do my best to contain him,” Benallo said of the key tackle. “Everyone else did their job on the field. It took all 11 guys.”

Ralston Valley would take advantage of the good field position with a 51-yard scoring drive over 8 plays. Junior quarterback James Wochner capped off the drive with a 13-yard touchdown run to give the Mustangs a 21-14 lead.

Ralston Valley got another 3-and-out by the Rebels on the next drive. A nice punt return by senior Bubba Harr gave the Mustangs the ball on Columbine’s 32-yard line. Wochner hooked up with sophomore Hunter Hamilton for a 6-yard touchdown with 8:56 left in the fourth quarter to extend the lead to 28-14.

It was the second touchdown pass of the game by Wochner, who has shared time behind center with senior Zach Friedman and sophomore Logan Madden this season.

“He (Wochner) played well so we rolled with it,” Ralston Valley coach Matt Loyd said. “He did a really good job. There was some really good stuff out of the offense, but when you play Columbine it’s up to your defensive effort and they came through.”

The defense set up the final score with senior Davis Brickle making a tackle for loss on a fourth-down attempt midway through the fourth quarter. Ralston Valley took over on Columbine’s 37-yard line. Two players later Wochner scored on his second rushing touchdown of the night to make the final score 35-14.

“There are a lot of plays in a game, but we had a couple of chances to make big plays tonight and we did,” Loyd said. “That was the key. When you get a team going for it on fourth down and you get the stop that’s big.”

The Mustangs opened the scoring with an impressive 80-yard scoring drive on the first offensive possession of the game. The touchdown drive was capped up by a remarkable play by Wochner who was able to slip out of a few tackles before firing a pass to Harr for a 22-yard touchdown with 9:20 left in the first half.

“I just kept my eyes downfield the whole time,” Wochner said of his first touchdown pass. “I when I was scrambling I saw him (Harr) open. It just worked out.”

Columbine answered with a 15-play drive, but Ralston Valley junior Jason Thome was able to jump on a fumbled handoff exchange to give the Mustangs the ball on either own 15-yard line.

The Rebels tied things up midway through the second quarter with a 27-yard touchdown run by senior Wes Jones to send the game tied going into halftime. After a 51-yard touchdown pass from Columbine quarterback Brock Zanetell to Jones tied it up at 14-14 with 6:59 left in the third quarter it was all Ralston Valley.

“(Columbine) has an amazing program and do a great job,” Benallo said. “Everyone at Ralston Valley contributed to this win tonight. It’s not a one-man show.”

Ralston Valley faces rival Arvada West (7-2, 3-1) at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 29, at NAAC. The Wildcats took care of business with a dominating 42-21 win over Lakewood on Thursday. It was a bounce back win for A-West after losing to Pomona 42-14 the week before.

“We aren’t moving to the playoffs yet,” Loyd said. “We are just focusing on next week.”

The Mustangs are in-line to grab a top-8 seed and a bye in the opening round of the playoffs with a win next week over A-West.

Columbine closes out its regular season on the road at the North Area Athlete Complex. The Rebels face No. 9 Pomona at 4 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 28, at NAAC. The Panthers (6-3, 4-0) will be attempting to sweep through the conference.

The Panthers actually clinched the conference title with Ralston Valley’s win against Columbine. Pomona went on the road Friday night defeated Mullen 21-7.

“Unfortunately we did,” Benallo said of helping rival Pomona to wrap up the league title. “We are ready to go next week.”

Dennis Pleuss is the Sports Information Director for Jeffco Public Schools. For more Jeffco coverage, go to CHSAANow.com.

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