DENVER | Forty-nine points would have been enough to win 23 of the 25 Class 5A state football championship games since Eaglecrest won its state title in 1993.
Unfortunately for the Raptors, one of the two instances when it wasn’t enough came Saturday night, when Pomona put up 56 points at Mile High Stadium to beat Eaglecrest 56-49 in the highest-scoring 5A state championship game in history.
Senior quarterback Jalen Mergerson’s rushing touchdown with 1 minute, 11 seconds, left in regulation made it a seven-point game, but coach Mike Schmitt’s Eaglecrest team couldn’t recover an onside kick and Pomona got the first down it needed to run out the clock.
“It’s always tough to take a loss at the end of the season, but you can’t be sad about a game like that,” Mergerson said of a game that shattered the previous 5A title game record of 81 points put by Cherry Creek and Arvada West in 1996.
“That was the two best teams going toe-to-toe and it was basically who could make the biggest play at the biggest time. They got the best of us, but it was great for this senior class to leave this legacy.”
In battle of programs that sought the second all-time state football titles in school history, the Panthers (12-2) ended up snapping a drought that stretched back to 1988 — and included losses to Valor Christian in the 2015 and 2016 finals — while the Raptors saw one extended that goes back to 1993.
Eaglecrest also saw a second straight undefeated season end in the postseason and finished 13-1.
Senior running back Kenny Wantings rushed for 200 yards and three touchdowns, Mergerson threw TD passes to senior Corey Corbin and junior Dawson Macomber and rushed for a score and senior Sam Onilenla returned a fumbled kickoff to the end zone for the Raptors.
Pomona got five touchdown passes from senior quarterback Ryan Marquez — three to junior Billy Pospisil, including a 28-yard midway through the fourth quarter and proved to the difference — and three rushing touchdowns from senior running back Max Borghi.
The Panthers threatened to run way with the game early when they recovered a Mergerson fumble to thwart Eaglecrest’s opening drive and went up 14-0 on two Marquez to Pospisil touchdowns passes.
The Raptors needed less than two minutes into the second quarter to get on the scoreboard, however, when Macomber caught a Mergerson pass and dragged a defender into the end zone. It was the first of five touchdowns in the period for Eaglecrest.
Wantings — who Schmitt said after the game most definitely belongs in the conversation with Borghi among the state’s top running back backs – scored twice in the quarter, including a 72-yard burst.
Mergerson threw a 52-yard touchdown pass to Corbin and Onilenla scooped up a fumble by Borghi on a kickoff and took it back 30 yards for a score as the Raptors actually went in front 35-28 before yielding the tying touchdown with 33 seconds left in the half.
“They got up on us early and they felt good, then we came storming back,” Schmitt said. “After that, I knew it was a fight and we just came up a couple of possessions short.”
Two key possessions in the first half of the fourth quarter proved to the difference.
A 10-play drive stalled for Eaglecrest in Pomona territory as it went for the tying score and the Raptors chose to punt after a false start call created a 4th-and-13.
Theryne Sandoval-Jimenez’s punt was downed at the 5 yard-line, but the Panthers drove 95 yards on nine plays — the last two throws to Pospisil — for a two-score lead.
On Eaglecrest’s next possession, a pass from Mergerson intended for Corbin was ruled an interception by Pomona’s Kenny Maes, though replays on the stadium’s JumboTron showed the ball being trapped as Maes went to the ground.
The Panthers didn’t score on the ensuing possession, but they took more than three minutes of precious time off the clock.
Eaglecrest’s defense took the blame, as it was unable to slow Pomona’s offense, which generated nearly 681 yards of total offense and scored 56 points against a unit that averaged just 12 points against it for the season.
“It was a crazy game, it was a shootout,” Raptors senior linebacker Cody Bardin said. “It wasn’t what we wanted on defense, but the offense did their job and the defense couldn’t step up when we needed to. We gave everything we had and it was a wonderful experience, that’s what I can hang my hat on.”
Courtney Oakes is Aurora Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasentinel.com. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel
(4) POMONA 56, (2) EAGLECREST 49
Score by quarters:
Eaglecrest 0 35 7 7 — 49
Pomona 14 21 14 7 — 56
Pomona — Billy Pospisil 32 yard pass from Ryan Marquez (McGuire Mallory kick), 5:02
Pomona — Pospisil 54 yard pass from Marquez (Mallory kick), 0:46
Eaglecrest — Dawson Macomber 25 yard pass from Jalen Mergerson (Theryne Sandoval-Jimenez kick), 10:48
Pomona — Max Borghi 28 yard run (Mallory kick), 9:28
Eaglecrest — Kenny Wantings 72 yard run (Sandoval-Jimenez kick), 9:10
Eaglecrest — Wantings 2 yard run (Sandoval-Jimenez kick), 5:14
Eaglecrest — Sam Onilenla 30 yard fumble return (Sandoval-Jimenez kick) ,5:03
Pomona — Riley Govan 12 yard pass from Marquez (Mallory kick), 2:14
Eaglecrest — Corey Corbin 58 yard pass from Mergerson (Sandoval-Jimenez kick), 1:26
Pomona — Colton Muller 31 yard pass from Marquez (Mallory kick), 0:33
Pomona — Borghi 3 yard run (Mallory kick), 8:51
Eaglecrest — Wantings 10 yard run (Sandoval-Jimenez kick), 5:28
Pomona — Borghi 2 yard run (Mallory kick), 2:55
Pomona — Pospisil 28 yard pass from Marquez (Mallory kick), 6:25
Eaglecrest — Mergerson 14 yard run (Sandoval-Jimenez kick), 1:11