ARVADA — Wide right. The Pomona Panthers are moving on to the Class 5A state football championship after a dramatic 21-20 win over Columbine in the semifinals.
The two teams went blow for blow all game, only separated in the end by a missed extra point.
Columbine quarterback Jake Lowry scrambled for what seemed to be a game-tying touchdown on a huge third and goal conversion from the 5-yard-line. With overtime on everyone’s minds, the kicking team ran out for the attempt, but missed it narrowly to the right.
“We were gonna let it go to overtime and see what happened,” said head coach Jay Madden.
The drama didn’t stop there. Pomona recovered the onside kick with just over a minute left in the game and could run the clock out. Lined up in the victory formation, the snap was fumbled and Columbine recovered.
The Rebels had one last drive to win it and Pomona could only hope that this year wouldn’t end in heartbreak. Lowry threw up a prayer, but a pack of Panthers was there to swat it down. Pomona could breathe a sigh of relief.
Cheers erupted as the students rushed onto the icy field, running to hug any player they could.
“Our kids, obviously, aren’t scared of anybody. They’ve played the best,” said Madden. “They’ve played every good team in the state of Colorado this year and they’ve come back fighting every single Monday ready to go whether we won or lost.”
Columbine bested Pomona 42-35 earlier in the season, and that only fueled the Panthers for this rematch.
“We had a lot of anger built up, and it was great to get it all out with the victory,” Pomona running back Cameron Gonzales said.
Columbine scored first in the second quarter with running back Mikey Griebel’s 1-yard touchdown run. Facing a 4th-and-short, the Rebels drew up a trick play that had Griebel taking a toss to the outside and throwing a 20-yard completion to wide receiver Jon Cole to set up the 1-yard TD run a couple plays later.
The first quarter was a scoreless affair, with neither team able to get anything going on offense. Brevin Fields recovered a Pomona fumble at the 45-yard-line to give the Rebels their first offensive possession. The teams traded fourth down stops before Columbine drove 80 yards resulting in the Griebel touchdown.
Pomona pushed right back with a methodical drive led by running backs Max Borghi and Gonzales. A seven-yard touchdown run by Gonzales knotted things up at seven. Gonzales finished with 81 yards and two touchdowns.
“When big plays needed to be made, we made 'em,” Marquez said.
The Panthers defense came up big all day. After stopping the Rebels on fourth down, the Pomona offense took over. A 36-yard touchdown pass from Marquez to Borghi on blown coverage put the Panthers up 14-7 going into the half.
“Our defense is like a little battery charger,” Marquez said. “They just power us up and everyone feeds off of their energy.”
After Griebel’s second touchdown of the day, yet another deep pass gashed the Rebel defense. Marquez to Chris Gatseos for 39 yards set up another Gonzales touchdown to give Pomona back the lead.
Columbine drove down the field for what seemed to be the game-tying touchdown, converting on two crucial third downs including Lowry’s five-yard scramble for the touchdown.
The extra point: no good. Columbine drops to 12-1, while Pomona now sits at 10-3.
“We bent and didn’t break, and we just found a win to win,” Madden said.
The Panthers advance to next Saturday’s 5A championship game at Sports Authority Field and yet another rematch. Valor Christian waits for their shot at revenge after Pomona took round one in the first game of the season, 28-14.
“We’re playing our best football right now and that’s all you can ask for,” Madden said.
The last championship appearance for the Panthers was a loss in 2009 against Mullen.
Pomona will hope for better results than the ’09 team against a Valor Christian team that’s coming off of a 20-10 win at Cherry Creek, and will make its seventh straight championship game appearance.
“We’ve had Valor before, we’ll be ready for 'em,” Marquez said. “I guarantee you we’ll be ready for ‘em.”
Kickoff is at 2:30 p.m. The game will be broadcast live on Altitude 2.