AURORA | Pomona took the scenic rout on its way to ending the season for the Regis Jesuit football team Saturday afternoon.
Three of the four scoring drives for the fifth-seeded Panthers covered 79 yards or more and they also mixed in a quick-strike 57-yard series, scoring all of the points they needed in a 28-14 Class 5A state quarterfinal win over the fourth-seeded Raiders in the first half at sun-splashed Lou Kellogg Stadium.
Plagued by the inability to stop those lengthy drives — most fueled by a straightahead running attack that gained nearly 350 yards on the afternoon — and stopping itself with three costly turnovers and rash of penalties, Regis Jesuit saw its undefeated season come to an end.
“Tip your cap to Coach (Jay) Madden, he came up with a good game plan to keep the ball out of our hands and shorten the game and that’s what they did,” said Raiders coach Danny Filleman, whose team finished 11-1 and remains looking for its first trip to the semifinals since 2016.
“Their O-Line is really good and 25 is tough to bring down.”
Sophomore quarterback Nicco Marchiol threw touchdown passes to seniors Jackson Connelly and Bryce Sloan for Regis Jesuit, but it wasn’t enough to keep Pomona (8-4) from earning the final spot in the semifinals. The Panthers move on to play No. 1 Cherry Creek (12-0), while No. 2 Ralston Valley (12-0) will oppose No. 6 Columbine (10-2) in the other.
The aforementioned 25 Filleman referred to was Pomona senior Sanjay Strickland, a 6-foot-2, 225-pound wrecking ball, who scored two touchdowns and came through in every short-yardage situation the Panthers faced through the game.
Strickland’s first score capped a 79-yard drive that swung the early momentum in the Panthers’ favor. Regis Jesuit had been in business when senior Colby Jaramillo tipped a pass from Pomona quarterback Brady Ritzmann into the arms of sophomore Zavier Carroll for an interception in the Panthers’ end.
The Raiders got just outside the red zone, but Panthers’ linebacker Kyle Moretti plucked Marchiol’s pass out of the air to stop the potential scoring drive.
A big run by junior Ben Cruz coupled with a 15-yard face mask — one of several big penalties doled out to the Raiders during the game — put Pomona quickly in the red zone and Strickland, who hadn’t had a touchdown since Week 1 against Regis Jesuit, chewed up 14 yards on two runs and got into the end zone.
An 80-yard march that lasted nearly five minutes doubled the lead for the Panthers, who began to gain big chunks by going straight at the interior of the Raiders’ defense. Junior AJ Zamora nearly ran over the umpire in the middle of the field on his way to the end zone on a 29-yard touchdown run.
“We were just struggling stopping the run,” senior defensive back Bryce Parsons said. “They were pounding it on us and we couldn’t stop it. It was on us today.”
Regis Jesuit started the next drive at its own 10 yard-line and went 90 yards to get on the scoreboard, with the last 33 yards coming on a perfect strike from Marchiol to Connelly along the left sideline.
The Raiders felt they were right back in the game, only to see Pomona go right back to work on the middle on the next series — opened with Cruz’s 40-yard burst — that saw Strickland score from two yards out with 1 minute left in the first half to cap a drive in which all 80 yards came on the ground.
The backbreaker came for Regis Jesuit when it took just 18 seconds off the clock on the ensuing series and had to punt back to Pomona, which had the ball near midfield with 30 seconds left and all three time outs. The Panthers needed just two plays, as Ritzmann dropped a ball into the hands of sophomore Chase Muller along the sideline and he took it to the end zone for a 21-point halftime edge.
“That one swung the momentum big time,” Filleman said. “We got it back with our touchdown, but if we go into halftime down 14-7 instead of (28-7), it’s a different mindset for the kids.”
Regis Jesuit scored what turned out to be the only points of the second half when Marchiol found Sloan for a 7-yard touchdown on a fourth down, but Marchiol twice had the ball jarred free and recovered by Pomona.
“I thought we moved the ball pretty well, but we had some penalties and certain situations with turnovers,” Connelly said. “That’s going to happen in football. I thought we played good, just sometimes those things don’t go your way.”
Pomona’s lengthy drive from its own 20 to the Regis Jesuit 19 that spanned the end of the third quarter and start of the fourth didn’t result in any points when Deion Maes pushed a 36-yard field goal attempt wide left, but it robbed a stunning 9 minutes, 54 seconds, off the clock.
A turnover stopped the Raiders’ next drive and the Panthers ate up the last 5:56 as the Raiders had to burn their final two time outs. Strickland’s 5-yard pickup on fourth-and-2 essentially ended the contest.
“In a big game against a team that’s going to grind it out like that, you have can’t have the penalties and turnovers like we did,” Filleman said.
Filleman loses just 10 seniors and next season expects to return plenty of core players — such as Marchiol, who threw for 193 yards, including 94 to sophomore Dallas Macias — who will have the unwanted experience of the loss to Pomona to draw from.
“As young as we are, you really hope that they will use it as fuel for the offseason,” Filleman said. “They are going to hear from us and that’s going to be our motivation the whole time, this game right here. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but everyone who plays sports goes through it.”
The few seniors that depart have no doubts that the Raiders will eventually get a lot out of how the game turned out and use it to take the next step.
“I see them coming right back at it next year and going all the way to win state,” Connelly said. “You have to lose sometimes to learn how to win in the playoffs. I have all the confidence in the coaches and players to get it done.”
Added Parsons, who is also a baseball player and an Air Force Academy commit: “I think the future is very bright. The underclassmen here worked very hard. They are very talented and I’m excited to come back and watch them play next year.”
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports
(5) POMONA 28, (4) REGIS JESUIT 14
Score by quarters:
Pomona 7 21 0 0 — 28
Regis Jesuit 0 7 7 0 — 14
Pomona — Sanjay Strickland 7 yard run (Deion Maes kick), 2:51
Pomona — AJ Zamora 29 yard run (Maes kick), 5:49
Regis Jesuit — Jackson Connelly 33 yard pass from Nicco Marchiol (Jordi De la Torre kick), 3:15
Pomona — Strickland 2 yard run (Maes kick), 1:00
Pomona — Chase Muller 59 yard pass from Brady Ritzmann (Maes kick), 0:16
Regis Jesuit — Bryce Sloan 7 yard pass from Marchiol (De la Torre kick), 4:35
Pomona: Brady Ritzmann 2-3, 52 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception
Regis Jesuit: Nicco Marchiol 15-24, 193 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception
Pomona: Sanjay Strickland 18-115, AJ Zamora 13-104, Ben Cruz 8-60, Ritzmann 6-37, Jack Pospisil 9-31
Regis Jesuit: Marchiol 10-46, David Dody 7-29, Pyreese Miler 4-25
Pomona: Chase Muller 1-49, Pospisil 1-3
Regis Jesuit: Dallas Macias 6-94, Jackson Connelly 3-50, Bryce Sloan 4-47, Ty McGuire 1-2, Dody 1-0