Football: Regis Jesuit overcomes Eaglecrest 34-24 in all-Aurora quarterfinals to make 5A final four

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Regis Jesuit junior DJ Jackson, left, tries to escape the grasp of Eaglecrest’s Elijah Anderson-Taylor during the first half of the Raiders’ 34-24 win over the Raptors in a Class 5A state football quarterfinal contest on Nov. 18, 2016, at Lou Kellogg Stadium. (Photo by Courtney Oakes/Aurora Sentinel)

AURORA | In a tie ballgame, Regis Jesuit’s Jake Heimlicher made a season-changing play Nov. 18.

Late in the third quarter of a Class 5A state football quarterfinal playoff contest against Eaglecrest, the extremely active junior defensive end read a screen pass from Raptors quarterback Jalen Mergerson, batted down the ball to keep it from crossing the line of scrimmage, scooped it up and scored the go-ahead touchdown.

The fourth-seeded Raiders made the defensive score stand up and held off fifth-seeded Eaglecrest for a 34-24 victory on the frigid turf at Lou Kellogg Stadium, simultaneously grabbing a spot in the 5A semifinals for the first time since 2010 and ending the Raptors’ unbeaten season.

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Regis Jesuit junior Jake Heimlicher smiles after the Raiders’ 34-24 victory over Eaglecrest in a Class 5A state football quarterfinal contest on Nov. 18 at Lou Kellogg Stadium. Heimlicher’s fumble return for a touchdown broke a tie late in the third quarter and held up as the winning score as Regis Jesuit advance to the 5A semifinals. (Photo by Courtney Oakes/Aurora Sentinel)

“We’ve been stuck in the quarterfinals for the past couple of years, so it feels so good to get past it,” said Heimlicher, who was credited with four sacks and 11 tackles in addition his third fumble return for a touchdown on the season.

Senior place kicker Jarred Worrick opened and closed the scoring with field goals on a chilly night, junior quarterback Justin Lamb threw a touchdown pass to Quentin Birch and ran for a score and junior DJ Jackson also found the end zone as coach Danny Filleman’s Regis Jesuit  (11-1) team won its 10th game in a row.

The Raiders — who  will face top-seeded Pomona (11-1), a 42-21 winner over No. 9 Columbine, at 1 p.m. Nov. 26 at the North Area Athletic Complex. Still searching for its state championship, Regis Jesuit could reach the final for the first time since 2010 with a victory.

Filleman was proud of how many big plays his team made in crucial situations against Eaglecrest, especially since they’ve had so many lopsided victories in recent weeks.

“This was a really good win for our guys; we haven’t really been in a situation like this for awhile where we’ve had to battle,” said Filleman, who moved to 4-1 in the postseason in two seasons with Regis Jesuit.

“We told them this would be a 48-minute game and it’s nice to come away and win the battle,” he added.

Regis senior Quentin Birch (11) celebrates with teammate Sam Bornhorst (76) after scoring a touchdown during the quarterfinal game between Regis and Eaglecrest at Lou Kellog Stadium on Nov. 18.  Photo by Michael Ortiz/Aurora Sentinel
Regis Jesuit senior Quentin Birch, left, celebrates with teammate Sam Bornhorst (76) after scoring a touchdown during the quarterfinal game between Regis Jesuit and Eaglecrest at Lou Kellog Stadium on Nov. 18. (Photo by Michael Ortiz/Aurora Sentinel)

Indeed, the Raiders faced an 11-point deficit to the previously undefeated Raptors after Lamb was intercepted by junior safety Victor Garnes, who took the ball back 65 yards for a touchdown.

Regis Jesuit buckled down on offense with two lengthy drives against an Eaglecrest defense that came in allowing the second-fewest points in 5A.

A long Alfred Jones run set up Jackson’s 1-yard plunge and Lamb scored from six yards out with just 16 seconds in the half — two plays after a clutch fourth down catch from sophomore Kiahn Martinez, who held onto the ball after getting nailed by Garnes — for a 24-21 lead at the break.

The Raptors forged a 24-24 tie on Theryne Sandoval-Jimenez’s 20-yard field goal in the third quarter and Eaglecrest got the ball back and had a good drive going until Heimlicher asserted himself.

He came off his block, knocked the ball down, grabbed it on the run and took it into the end zone uncontested to give his team the lead in stunning fashion.

“They always drop back deep and I saw the running back going out, so I just stuck my hands up and batted it down,” said Heimlicher, who also took back fumbles for scores against Legacy and Westminster.

Regis Jesuit then put together its longest drive of the game, a seven-minute march that included Lamb’s clutch third-down completion to Aubrey Marschel-Parker on third-and-five.

Lamb stayed upright as two Eaglecrest defenders tried to take him down, broke free and got off an on target pass to his receiver.

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Regis Jesuit quarterback Justin Lamb fires a pass during the first quarter of the Raiders’ win over Eaglecrest in a 5A state football quarterfinal playoff game on Nov. 18. (Photo by Courtney Oakes/Aurora Sentinel)

“When stuff breaks down, you just have to deal with it,” Lamb said. “Those are the kind of plays that win you games.”

Senior linebacker Will Kulick — one of four Regis Jesuit defenders with double-digit tackles — made another of those kind of plays on Eaglecrest’s ensuing drive.

Kulick chased down a scrambling Mergerson at the Raiders’ 15 yard-line and knocked the ball out of his hands, with junior Patrick Roe scooping it up and taking it back to Raptors’ territory, where Regis Jesuit killed the clock.

“We’re definitely always flying around and having a good time,” Heimlicher said of a defense that also forced a turnover on downs at its own 5 yard-line in the first quarter.

“We have so much confidence going right now,” he added.

Next up for Regis Jesuit is a semifinal contest against Pomona, which it will meet in the postseason for the first time since 2003. The Panthers won that first round contest 32-14.

Pomona — which topped No. 9 Columbine 42-21 in another quarterfinal contest for its 10th consecutive victory — lost to Valor Christian in last season’s 5A state final.

Filleman is glad for at last one more week for his team’s season.

“These kids earned it and they deserve it,” he said. “We’ll get to fight another week.”

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

(4) REGIS JESUIT 34, (5) EAGLECREST 24

Score by quarters:

Eaglecrest       7  14   3  0 — 24

Regis Jesuit     10  14   7  3 — 34

SCORING

First quarter

Regis Jesuit — Jarred Worrick 27 yard field goal, 9:31

Eaglecrest — Theryne Sandoval-Jimenez 33 yard pass from Jalen Mergerson (Sandoval-Jimenez kick), 6:53

Regis Jesuit — Quentin Birch 47 yard pass from Justin Lamb (Worrick kick), 3:37

Second quarter

Eaglecrest — Sandoval-Jimenez 18 yard pass from Mergerson (Sandoval-Jimenez kick), 7:16

Eaglecrest — Victor Garnes 65 yard interception return (Sandoval-Jimenez kick) 6:21

Regis Jesuit — DJ Jackson 1 yard run (Worrick kick), 4:12

Regis Jesuit — Lamb 6 yard run (Worrick kick), 0:16

Third quarter

Eaglecrest — Sandoval-Jimenez 20 yard field goal, 4:14

Regis Jesuit — Jake Heimlicher 25 yard fumble return (Worrick kick), 0:46

Fourth quarter

Regis Jesuit — Worrick 23 yard field goal, 4:49