DENVER — Both defenses for the Class 5A football finalists will be facing a unique challenges during their matchup on Saturday at Mile High Stadium.
Yes, Pomona and Eaglecrest will each have their hands full during the matchup, which kicks off at 2:30 p.m.
Pomona quarterback Ryan Marquez (2,316 yards passing and 22 touchdowns through the air), running back Max Borghi (1,444 yards rushing and 26 total touchdowns), receiver Billy Pospisil (1,402 yards receiving and 16 total touchdowns) are just three of the playmakers Eaglecrest's defense must concern itself with come Saturday.
Pomona is averaging 44.6 points per game and have put up well over 500 yards of total offense in all three playoff wins heading into the Panthers’ third straight trip to the 5A title game.
"I'll tell you what, it's not going to be an easy task. There are so many weapons," Eaglecrest coach Mike Schmitt said of Pomona's offense during media day on Tuesday. "We've played some good offensive teams this season, but nobody has this talent across this level. We are challenged by the test."
The undefeated Raptors (13-0 overall) have one of the top defenses in 5A this season. Eaglecrest is allowing just 12 points per game, and that includes the double-overtime victory against Columbine last weekend where the Rebels put up 31 points.
However, Eaglecrest realizes it is facing a different kind of offensive monster led by Borghi, a Washington State commit.
"Max Borghi hits the hole like nobody has ever seen," said Eaglecrest senior linebacker Kyante Christian, who leads the Raptors with 20 tackles for a loss. "He is that type of athlete."
To add to Borghi's fire, the star running back still remembers the fumble late in the 2015 state championship game against Valor Christian. The Eagles rallied in the fourth quarter for a 29-26 victory.
"That has stuck with me for sure," Borghi said of his fumble in the 2015 state title game. "That was a big play and it has built a lot of fuel in me. It's always hung on to me and something that pushes me to go get that ring for my team, community and all the alumni."
Junior Theorius Robison, a two-time state wrestling champion, has been the complimentary running back to Borghi. Robison has 815 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground.
While Pomona's ground game looks impressive, three-year starting quarterback Ryan Marquez has been outstanding during the playoffs. He has distributed the ball to Pospisil, Riley Govan, Colton Muller and David Ross for big pass plays during the postseason.
"You have to play within yourself," said Eaglecrest senior linebacker and leading tackler Cody Bardin on how to approach facing the Panthers. "As soon as someone plays outside of themselves is when you get breakdowns and allow big plays."
Defensively for Pomona (11-2), it has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride. The Panthers were hit hard by graduation, but the young unit has pulled together after back-to-back losses to Valor and Rockhurst (Mo.) before the start of league play.
"They were learning so fast and having to play some really good teams early in the season," Pomona coach Jay Madden said. "They kind of got thrown to the wolves. They got torn up a little bit, but it made them grow up and created some leadership."
Eaglecrest has its own impressive offensive trio of quarterback Jalen Mergerson, running back Kenny Wantings and receiver Theryne Sandoval-Jimenez. And don't forget about one of the more explosive two-way players in the state in senior Victor Garnes.
"The big boys up front have to play well and they know that," Pomona senior captain and safety Mateo Crespin said. "We've got to be strong and physical up front. That makes the job so much easier for the linebackers and defensive backs. They have played great during this playoff run."
Madden said the Panthers' defensive effort in the 42-20 semifinal victory over Grandview was one of the best of the season. Pomona had five tackles for loss. Seniors Tanner Kimminau and Diego Medina combined for three sacks. Sophomore linebackers Kyle Moretti and Sanjay Strickland will also be relied on heavily to keep the Raptors' playmakers contained.
The turning point for the defense this season was when Marquez broke his non-throwing arm to start conference play and missed more than a month.
"With Ryan out we knew we had to step it up. We couldn’t leave it all up to the offense," Pomona senior defensive end Garrett Warner said. "We had to take control and show our defense can win games for us."
Another thing Pomona has going for it is heath. The injuries in the state quarterfinal to Borghi and semifinal to running back Cameron Gonzales forced then junior Kenny Maes to his first varsity start at tailback in the 5A title game last season.
Maes leads the Panthers with five interceptions this season and shouldn’t have to worry about taking any handoffs Saturday.
"Kenny is a great free safety and corner. Having him on the defensive side of the ball helps us so much," Crespin said. "It's fun to be back here healthy and ready to roll. Hopefully we can get the result we want Saturday."