Football: Eaglecrest feasting on first 5A semifinal since 1993

Eaglecrest senior linebacker Kyante Christian (49) celebrates with teammates after the Raptors’ 26-7 win over Cherry Creek in a Class 5A state football quarterfinal contest on Nov. 18, 2017, at Legacy Stadium. The second-seeded Raptors remained unbeaten and earned their first trip to the 5A semifinals since 1993. (Photo by Philip Poston/Aurora Sentinel)

AURORA | Way back in August, the Eaglecrest football team made a goal to be practicing over Thanksgiving break.

To reach that goal would mean the Raptors would be one of just four teams left in the Class 5A state playoffs.

For the first time since 1993, they are.

With a thorough effort in all phases of the game Nov. 18 at Legacy Stadium, coach Mike Schmitt’s second-seeded Eaglecrest team earned itself a week of practice around the upcoming holiday with a 26-7 victory over No. 7 Cherry Creek.

Eaglecrest senior running back Kenny Wantings (27) keeps his feet after he avoided Cherry Creek defender Alec Pell during the first quarter of the Raptors’ 26-7 Class 5A state football quarterfinal win over the Bruins on Nov. 18, 2017, at Legacy Stadium. (Photo by Courtney Oakes/Aurora Sentinel)

At the end of their week of practice, the undefeated Raptors will take on third-seeded Columbine (11-1) in a semifinal contest set for noon Nov. 25 at Legacy Stadium.

“We talked about it before the season, that our next step was to practice on Thanksgiving and now we get that opportunity,” said Eaglecrest senior quarterback Jalen Mergerson, who threw two touchdown passes in the victory.

“We knew this game was going to be a battle and we were going to have to fight,” he added. “That’s what we took with us from losing to Regis last year (in the quarterfinals). After that loss, we were sad at the time, but we said ‘Let’s just get it done’ and we went to work.

“We had some ups and downs throughout the season, but it’s all come together.”

Indeed Eaglecrest had to get past a round that stopped it last season in a disappointing 10-point loss to Regis Jesuit and on two other occasions (2001 and 2012) since the program’s one and only championship-winning season of 1993.

And that meant defeating a Cherry Creek team that had won nine of the previous 12 meetings between the teams stretching back to when the teams shared the same conference prior to realignment in 2015.

The quarterfinal was all Raptors, however, as a defense that came into the game having allowed the second-fewest points in 5A put the wraps on an offense that had scored the second-most points in the classification, held it to less than 200 yards and also generated two turnovers that led to touchdowns.

“We didn’t do everything perfectly, but we worked hard and played with confidence every play, good or bad,” Schmitt said. “We executed, didn’t turn the ball over and the defense played great.

“That’s playoff football.”

Eaglecrest senior Victor Garnes skies to pull down a touchdown pass in front of Cherry Creek’s Damoni Jones in the fourth quarter of the Raptors’ 26-7 win over Cherry Creek in a Class 5A state football quarterfinal game Nov. 18 at Legacy Stadium. (Photo by Philip Poston/Aurora Sentinel)

A pair of field goals by senior place kicker Theryne Sandoval-Jimenez staked Eaglecrest to a 6-0 lead at halftime. Senior Corey Corbin tipped away a fourth-down pass and senior Kyante Christian helped stuff a fourth-and-short as the Raptors’ defense made big play after big play in the half.

Senior Victor Garnes preserved the halftime lead when he blocked a field goal by the Bruins’ Mac Willis on the final play.

Garnes got Eaglecrest into the end zone in the late stages of the third quarter when he took a swing pass from Mergerson and tiptoed the sideline for a 21-yard touchdown.

Senior defensive back Jon Heupel picked off Cherry Creek quarterback Alex Padilla on a tipped pass on the very next play and Eaglecrest scored again three plays later when senior running back Kenny Wantings burst into daylight and raced 27 yards to the end zone.

On the first play of the Bruins’ next possession, Corbin laid full out and intercepted Padilla to get the ball back yet again for the Raptors.

“They had good receivers and they had speed, we just had to stay focused on their hips knowing they would stop so we could break on routes,” Corbin said.

Nine plays later and with five valuable minutes taken off the clock, Eaglecrest scored its third touchdown of the second half on a fourth down when Mergerson lofted a ball to the corner of the end zone where Garnes rose above Bruins’ cornerback Damoni Jones to bring the ball in.

Eaglecrest next turns its attention to facing Columbine, a team it scrimmages in the summer just about every year.

The Raptors know exactly what they are up against in the methodical, physical Rebels and they’ll have the holiday week to work on stopping it.

“I won’t be able to eat as much (at Thanksgiving), but we get something special out of it, so it’s worth it,” Christian said.

Courtney Oakes is Aurora Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel


Score by quarters:

Cherry Creek  0  0  0   7 —   7

Eaglecrest        3  3  7  13 — 26


First quarter

Eaglecrest — Theryne Sandoval-Jimenez 28 yard field goal, 2:13

Second quarter

Eaglecrest — Sandoval-Jimenez 27 yard field goal, 6:49

Third quarter

Eaglecrest — Victor Garnes 21 yard pass from Jalen Mergerson (Sandoval-Jimenez kick), 23.1

Fourth quarter

Eaglecrest — Kenny Wantings 27 yard run (pass failed), 11:24

Eaglecrest — Garnes 23 yard pass from Mergerson (Sandoval-Jimenez kick), 6:19

Cherry Creek — Marcus Miller 8 yard pass from Alex Padilla (Mac Willis kick), 4:41