There's more than one way to win a ballgame.
The notion may be a cliché, but it was on full display Friday night as the methodical Pomona Panthers (1-1) topped the explosive Cherry Creek Bruins (1-1) 30-28 in a battle of the second- and fourth-ranked teams in the state.
Coming off a loss to number-one ranked Valor last week, Pomona head coach Jay Madden spoke about the level of excitement heading into Friday's matchup.
"It's a great competition. We've been playing against Coach Logan and Cherry Creek for a long time. It's just fun. I think both sides enjoy it. It's a fair game," said Madden. "Both teams play the game the right way and both teams fought their butts off tonight."
Both Pomona and Cherry Creek showed why they are so highly ranked right away. Early in the first quarter, after a Pomona punt pinned Cherry Creek on their own one-yard line, Bruins senior running back Milo Hall took a handoff, bounced off multiple would-be tacklers, and didn't stop till he reached the end-zone, 99 yards away.
But the Panthers would immediately respond. Equipped with a relentless and balanced attack, Pomona marched up and down the field all night, alternately running and throwing the ball to pick up first downs and keep the ball away from Cherry Creek's athletic attack.
Pomona's sophomore running back Cameron Gonzalez tied things up at seven apiece with a plunge into the end-zone from three yards out, and wide receiver Issac Marquez would add a rushing touchdown of his own on Pomona's next drive to take a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter.
From there, Creek put their explosiveness to work once more. A 65-yard TD pass by junior quarterback Joe Caplis to senior Joseph Parker, who was wide open after streaking down the sideline, tied things up at 14 mid-way through the second. Big plays were the Bruins' hallmark all night — there just weren't quite enough of them to outlast the relentless Panthers.
"We've got to quit giving up those big plays," said Madden. "But they're talented, so you've got to give them some credit too."
After a goal-line stand by the Bruins defense to end the half, Pomona would seize control in the third quarter. Marquez and Gonzalez capped off back-to-back long drives with their second rushing touchdowns of the evening, respectively, to give the Panthers a commanding 27-14 lead.
Gonzalez finished with over 200 yards on the ground to go along with his two touchdowns.
"All thanks to my offensive line," said Gonzalez after the game. "They work hard each day, every day. Our big guys up front help me out, help our team out."
Also helping was senior quarterback Justin Roberts, who converted a number of key third-down conversions with his legs to keep Pomona's drives alive, and the ball away from Cherry Creek's playmakers.
"We were definitely ground and pound, but our quarterback was great tonight, made a lot of good checks at the line of scrimmage because they would overload one side or the other and he'd have to make a check and change the play," said Madden. "I think that caught them off guard. I think he picked up four first downs on runs, and for a quarterback that normally doesn't run, that's a pretty good job."
Creek, however, wasn't close to finished. A touchdown pass from junior quarterback Ray Rountree to senior tight end Jaylon Jones got the Bruins to within one score late in the third quarter.
After a field goal by Pomona freshman Max Borghi extended the Panthers' lead to 30-21 with ten minutes left in the fourth, Hall answered again for Creek, bouncing a handoff outside for an 8-yard touchdown run. His second touchdown run of the night got the Bruins within two with just under five minutes left to play.
After forcing a Pomona punt, the Bruins had one final chance with the clock dwindling down. But after two first downs, and with under two minutes left, Panther defensive back Dillon Pace's interception, the first turnover of a remarkably clean game, sealed the 30-28 victory for Pomona.
With the win, Pomona emerges from a challenging first two weeks feeling confident and battle-tested, according to their quarterback Roberts.
"They (Cherry Creek) were number two, and we came out after the loss to number one Valor and just played great," said Roberts, who in addition to his work on the ground also threw for 140 yards. "I think we used that well and now we know our strengths and weakness. We're the most prepared we can be."
That kind of confidence is good, because the road doesn't get any less rocky from here. Pomona will try to keep their momentum going in a short week against traditional powerhouse Mullen on Thursday, while Cherry Creek will look to bounce back against Jordan High School from Sandy, Utah next Saturday.