ARVADA — The climb to the top of the Mt. Evans League began Thursday night for top-ranked Pomona.
The Panthers, No. 1 in the CHSAANow.com Class 5A football poll since Sept. 6, opened conference play at the North Area Athletic Complex against Rock Canyon (2-4 overall, 0-1 in league). Pomona managed a 44-14 victory, but it was a struggle at times for the Panthers to reel off their fourth straight victory.
After having two weeks to prepare — Pomona (5-1, 1-0) had a bye last week because it played Zero Week against No. 2 Mullen — the Panthers admittedly came out a little rusty.
“Our kids forget sometimes that we win football games because we play hard. When we don’t play hard we are as average as anybody,” Pomona coach Jay Madden said. “That’s how we looked in the first half.”
Pomona led just 14-7 at halftime. In fact, Rock Canyon put the first points on the board with a 1-yard touchdown run by junior Duke Avery with 7:03 left in the first quarter. Touchdown runs of 4 and 54 yards by Pomona junior Max Borghi gave the Panthers their first lead, but penalties and mistakes led to just the 7-point halftime lead.
“We’ve got to be more disciplined then that,” Madden said referring to the 125 yards of penalties in the first half for the Panthers, including a pair of pass interference calls on defense. “We weren’t sharp. Give Rock Canyon some credit.”
The Panthers turned things around late in the third quarter. Junior quarterback Ryan Marquez connected with sophomore Billy Pospisil for a 26-yard touchdown with 4:43 left in the third quarter.
After an interception by senior Uriah Vigil, the Panthers scored again on Borghi’s third touchdown run of the game with 1:55 left in the quarter to give Pomona a 28-7 lead.
Vigil came up big again just before the end of the third quarter. He blocked a punt that went out of the end zone for a Pomona safety to push the lead to 30-7.
The senior defensive back and receiver had a pass interference penalty and dropped a sure touchdown earlier in the game.
“I knew I had to make it up for my team,” said Vigil, who had a second interception that led to Pomona’s final touchdown. “After making a couple of errors I had to come out with a little more aggression and fire.”
Senior Cameron Gonzales had a 5-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter and Marquez hit Borghi for a 35-yard touchdown pass to complete the run of 44 unanswered points for the Panthers.
After some offensive success early, Rock Canyon didn’t get a first down in the second half until its sixth possession after halftime.
“We struck in the second half. That’s all that matters,” said Borghi, who finished with four touchdowns, 91 yards rushing on a dozen carries to go along with three catches for 63 yards.
It was already a special day for the junior football and track star. Borghi tweeted out earlier in the day he had received his first Division I football offer. The Chippewas of Central Michigan University have offered the junior a scholarship.
Colorado State University running backs coach Bryan Applewhite was also roaming the sidelines Thursday night at NAAC to get a first-hand look at the Borghi.
“I really don’t think about that. I really just think about my job, my game and what I have to do out here,” said Borghi. “I don’t worry about coaches or scouting or anything of that during the game.”
Pomona is back at NAAC next Thursday night where the Panthers square off against Hinkley (0-5). Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
The first-half struggles was a bid of a wake-up call for Pomona.
“This new league season is nothing to mess around with,” Vigil said. “Every team we play we have to come out like it’s a state championship game.”
Rock Canyon hosts Cherokee Trail at 7 p.m. Oct. 14 as the Jaguars look for its first league victory.