AURORA | A capsule look at the 2017 Class 5A state football championship game matchup between No. 2 Eaglecrest and No. 4 Pomona:
Courtney Oakes is Aurora Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel
NO. 2 EAGLECREST (13-0) vs. NO. 4 POMONA (11-2)
2:30 p.m., Dec. 1 at Mile High Stadium
BREAKDOWN: Eaglecrest and Pomona meet for the first time in the postseason and haven’t opposed each other in any way since a two-game series in 1997 and 1998. Each team won once in those meetings…Eaglecrest is in search of the program’s second state football championship, with the first coming way back in 1993 in just the school’s third year of existence in Class 5A and back when Colorado had six classifications. Under coach Ron Peterson, the Raptors triumphed over Hinkley 37-29 in an all-Aurora championship game placed at Stutler Bowl. This season’s Raptors have a chance to match the other feat accomplished by Peterson’s championship team, a perfect 14-0 season…Pomona also has one state football championship to its credit all-time and that came back in 1988 in the 4A classification when it outlasted Montbello 24-21. The Panthers have had three opportunities to win another title since then, but lost 27-24 to Mullen in 2009, 29-26 to Valor Christian in 2015 and 30-14 to Valor Christian in 2016. Pomona is set to play at Mile High Stadium for the fourth time in the now 13-year history of the state final being played on the field of the Denver Broncos.
EAGLECREST: Coach Mike Schmitt’s Raptors earned its way into the state championship game in the most thrilling way possible, as they went for broke in double overtime in the semifinals against third-seeded Columbine Nov. 25 at Legacy Stadium. Senior QB Jalen Mergerson threw a strike to senior WR Theryne Sandoval-Jimenez — who had hauled in a touchdown pass on the previous play — for the winning two-point conversion in a 32-31 victory. The win was the 13th straight for Eaglecrest and came on the heels of previous postseason victories against No. 15 Fountain-Fort Carson (35-14) and No. 7 Cherry Creek (26-7). The back-to-back Mount Wilson League champion Raptors have now won 24 of their past 25 games since they were left out of the 2015 postseason due to a cheating scandal involving Highlands Ranch…In the postseason, senior RB Kenny Wantings has reached the end zone six times for Eaglecrest and Mergerson has thrown five touchdown passes, two apiece to Sandoval-Jimenez and senior WR Victor Garnes and one to senior WR Corey Corbin, while he also picked up his first rushing touchdown of the postseason with a 1-yard keeper on fourth-and-goal in overtime against Columbine. Sandoval-Jimenez made both of his field goal attempts in a quarterfinal win over Cherry Creek and is perfect on extra points thus far as well. The Raptors have also scored on defense, as Garnes and senior DE/LB Kyante Christian tackled a Columbine ballcarrier in the end zone for a safety….Eaglecrest’s defense is coming off a game in which it allowed a season-high 31 points against Columbine — 14 came in overtime when the Raptors had been wore down by the Rebels’ huge front line — and even with that its given up the second-fewest points in 5A (five more than Regis Jesuit, which played one fewer game). With another big line in front of it from Pomona, Christian (the team’s second-leading tackler and sack leader), junior NG Matt Youngblood and junior DT Trevor Barrios among others will need to play well in the trenches, while junior DE Elijah Anderson-Taylor has been playing his best in the postseason as well. The Panthers’ running game found a lot of room in the middle of the field in a semifinal win over No. 8 Grandview, so the play of senior LBs Cody Bardin and Kyle Wagner in the middle will be very key in keeping the ground game under control as will the presence of junior LB Tyler Dufour, who can also get the opposing quarterback when he needed as he has a handful of times. Eaglecrest’s defensive backfield of Garnes, Corbin and senior DBs Jon Heupel and Thomas Dangerfield III have their hands full with a speedy core of receivers, but have more than held their own against some of the top passing attacks in the state. Garnes had his shoulder pop out while making a tackle late in the first half against Columbine, but returned to the game in the second half and played primarily on defense, where he is top three on the team in tackles. Corbin leads the team with five interceptions and Dangerfield III has three for a unit that has become more prolific with takeaways in the postseason…Offensively, Eaglecrest has put up 452 points on the season (34.8 points per contest) with an attack that is just as adept throwing the ball as it is running. The health of junior OL Barrett “Bear” Miller is key, as he went down with a knee injury against Columbine. Miller forms part of a strong offensive line that includes sophomore Reece Atteberry, senior Mac Shaw and juniors Jake Wiley and Chris Stockman. Mergerson has been the key with a season in which he has thrown for well over 2,000 yards and 18 touchdowns (versus just three interceptions), while he is also nearing the 1,000-yard rushing milestone and has scored 12 times with his legs. Wantings is a shifty runner who has softened up many defenses and has run for nearly 1,300 yards. Sandoval-Jimenez is one of the most sure-handed receivers around and has pulled in more than 1,000 yards worth of passes with eight touchdowns, while Garnes sometimes gets touchdowns out of the backfield, but has also caught seven touchdown passes. Corbin, junior WR Amaris Duggan and junior TE Dawson Macomber all have had their moments throughout the season…Garnes can be a game-changer on special teams if he gets the chance to return a kick and Sandoval-Jimenez has been a very reliable punter and place kicker for the Raptors.
POMONA: Coach Jay Madden’s Panthers appear in the state title game for the third straight season and won’t have to face Valor Christian on this occasion. Pomona has had very little trouble in the postseason so far, including a 42-20 win over No. 8 Grandview in the semifinals, which came after other sizeable wins against No. 13 Poudre (68-27) and No. 5 Fairview (48-31) in the previous two rounds and has the Panthers on an eight-game winning streak. Pomona rolled up 500 yards of total offense in the semifinal game against the Wolves, who had one of the state’s best defenses coming into the game, and got a 211-yard, three-touchdown performance from senior RB Max Borghi to lead the way. Senior QB Ryan Marquez threw for 275 yards and hit junior WRs Colton Muller and David Ross for long touchdown passes, including a 98-yarder to Muller. In the postseason as a whole, Pomona has racked up a stunning 158 points in three contests as Borghi has rushed for nine touchdowns, Marquez has thrown for 826 yards and 10 touchdowns and junior WR Billy Pospisil has racked up 319 yards and five touchdowns…For the season, Pomona has the most prolific offense in 5A by a wide margin with a total of 580 points (91 more than second-place Columbine in the same number of games) for an average of 44.6 points per contest. The Panthers have an outstanding offensive front to work behind, a unit that has allowed the offense to achieve incredible balance with 2,888 yards passing and 2,793 yards rushing. The elusive, powerful Borghi — who was sidelined by a knee injury in last season’s state championship game — is a major key as he has piled up 1,444 yards rushing and 24 touchdowns for the season on just 139 carries, while junior RB Theorius Robison has added 815 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground as well. Marquez, who Madden noted will be playing in his 42nd varsity football game, has completed 64 percent of his passes for 2,316 yards and 22 touchdowns against just four interceptions, all while missing three games due to injury. The receiving core is incredibly deep, but is led statistically by Pospisil, who has eclipsed 100 yards receiving seven times and has 1,402 yards receiving on the season along with 15 touchdowns. The speedy Ross has 632 yards receiving and seven touchdowns, Muller has 442 yards receiving and five touchdowns and senior WR Riley Govan has snared three TD passes to go with 256 yards…Defensively, Pomona has allowed 255 points on the season — an average of 19.6 per contest — but has been able to play with the lead for virtually the entire season. The Panthers have been much-improved since allowing a combined 74 points in back-to-back losses to Valor Christian and Rockhurst (Missouri) in last September. They have yielded at least 20 points in each playoff contest, but scored defensively against Grandview when senior DB Riley Welsch took an interception back to the end zone. Pomona has generated 38 sacks (senior DE Tanner Kimminau has nine to top 12 players with at least one) and forced 29 turnovers, including 20 interceptions (five from senior S Kenny Maes and four from Welsch). Sophomore LB Kyle Moretti broke the 100-tackle barrier with an 11-stop performance against Grandview and paces the team in tackling, while senior LB Mateo Crespin, junior DB Jack Thiele and senior DT Doug Mills also get in on plenty of plays for the Panthers…On special teams, Borghi has returned both a punt and kickoff for a touchdown and averages 40 yards per punt. Senior PK McGuire Mallory has connected on both of his field goal attempts on the season, but hasn’t attempted since way back on Sept. 15 against Ralston Valley.