LA JUNTA — If there's one glaring number that will stand out to La Junta and Eaton from their gridiron battle Friday night, it's this: 27 points off turnovers.
It was three first half turnovers that led to the first 20 points for the Tigers (4-0 overall) that set the tone in a 33-14 over the Reds at Tigers Stadium.
"Is that what it was? I knew it was something significant," Eaton coach Zac Lemon said. "That's the killer."
The Reds (2-1) made the four-hour trip down Highway 71 as the No. 2-ranked team in 2A and walked into the den of a fired up La Junta team, ranked No. 6, who had outscored their opponents 128-16 coming into Friday night.
And that trend would continue, thanks in large part to five forced turnovers.
After their first drive stalled, the Reds defense was able to hold off a very balanced Tigers offense to get another chance to get points on the board. And that's when things start going wrong for the Reds.
Apela Furtado-Tom picked off Eaton quarterback Austin Coalson and returned the ball inside the Reds 15-yard line. Dax Bender rewarded the defensive play with a four-yard touchdown run to get the Tigers on the board 6-0.
"Our line was doing a great job," Bender said. "I just found the holes and it was because of the rest of the team."
Those holes that the offensive created were good enough to let Bender run for 136 yards. He also found the end zone twice on the night.
The Reds looked to get things settled by getting their running attack involved, but disaster struck again as Colton Ingram coughed up the ball, giving the Tigers possession once again. This time, it was Carlos Triana who found pay dirt for a touchdown. After their first extra point was blocked, the Tigers converted on a two-point conversion to give them a 14-0 lead.
Down two scores, it was time for the high-flying Eaton offense to get some points on the board. Coalson found Preston Donlon on a 53-yard pass to cut the La Junta lead in half and make it a 14-7 game.
Another touchdown from each team made the score 20-14 at halftime. It almost seemed that the Reds were on the verge of getting back into the game and fighting to keep their spot as the second-ranked team in the state.
But Furtado-Tom had other plans.
He took the opening kick of the second half 92 yards for a touchdown to make it 26-14 and take the air out of Eaton's comeback hopes.
"Our deflated attitude kind of stepped up there," Lemon said. "It's good to have a test like this. It's good to be in a playoff-style atmosphere. All of our turnovers and the kick-off just demoralized us."
Bender added the second of his two touchdowns later in the quarter and the Tigers were able to kill the rest of the clock to get the 33-14 win and put the rest of 2A on notice. And it's the Tigers defense that should be getting most of the attention.
"Our defense has been good all year; that's the most (points) we've given up in a game and they're by far the best team we've played," La Junta coach Clint Buderus said. "I think our D-coordinator had a pretty good game plan. We fly around and get after it."
Both Eaton and La Junta will prepare for the same opponent in Manitou Springs. The Reds host the Mustangs Sept. 25 while the Tigers will take a bye week before hosting Manitou on Oct. 2.