ARVADA — Pomona was able to fit the puzzle pieces together Saturday afternoon to advance to the quarterfinals of the Class 5A football state playoffs.
The No. 2-seeded Panthers took a 34-7 victory over No. 10 Arvada West at the North Area Athletic Complex. Pomona faces No. 2 Columbine next Friday or Saturday at Jeffco Stadium with a ticket to the semifinals on the line.
Pomona (7-4 record) has suffered injury-after-injury to key players all season. The latest blow came this week in practice when junior linebacker Kyle Moretti suffered a broken ankle. He underwent season-ending surgery Thursday.
“It was just another hit,” Pomona senior captain Jack Thiele said. “Obviously, Kyle is one of our better players. It hurt, but we knew we just had to rally around him.”
Pomona coach Jay Madden moved around several pieces, including putting Thiele at linebacker from his normal safety spot. Madden counted on the likes of defensive backs Thor Bourgeois and Isaiah Tshimanga to step into bigger roles facing A-West’s all-time leading passer and four-year starting quarterback Johnny Krutsch.
“You got four all-state guys on the bench, but we’ve got a good program with a lot of good kids,” Madden said. “They stepped up big. It feels good.”
Krutsch still put up some big numbers going 29-for-47 for 283 yards through the air, but the Panthers also intercepted the A-West quarterback four times. Tshimanga, Thiele, David Ross and Dominic Bettini all picked off Krutsch.
The only score for A-West was a 68-yard touchdown pass from Krutsch to senior Cory Carignan in the third quarter. Carignan finished with 10 catches for 144 yards and the one score.
The biggest interception came when Tshimanga picked off Krutsch with the Wildcats (7-5) driving into Pomona territory early in the second quarter with the game scoreless. Pomona took over and four plays later quarterback Riley Welsch hit a wide-open Ross for a 56-yard touchdown.
“That was huge,” Thiele said of Welsch’s touchdown pass to Ross. “It not only gave the offense, but the defense momentum. I think that was one of the biggest plays of the game.”
Pomona eventually scored touchdowns on five of six possessions after turning the ball over on its first two offensive possessions.
Defensively, a main focus for Madden was to limit A-West leading receiver Chris McEahern. Madden handed that task over to Bettini.
“I told him (Bettini) I wanted to play him on offense, but we have to shut down (Chris McEahern),” Madden said. “I needed an unselfish player and he said, ‘I got it.’ Inside the 20 we were going to give him the ball on offense.”
Bettini held McEahern to three catches for five yards.
“He (McEahern) has shown he is one of the top receivers in the state,” Bettini said. “I had to step up and my teammates around me did a really good job helping me. It was a good game-plan.”
The senior move-in transfer from Highlands Ranch also got his touches on the offensive side. Bettini had 17 carries for 117 yards and four touchdowns.
In the first meeting this season between the Arvada-area rivals, Pomona leaned heavily on Bettini. He had 44 carries for 270 yards and five touchdowns in the Panthers’ 41-27 victory.
Sophomore Ben Cruz had a huge game on the ground. With starting running back Therious Robison out due to injury, Cruz had 29 carries for 221 yards.
Next up for Pomona is a familiar foe. The Rebels dominated No. 15 Highlands Ranch to the tune of 49-7 on Friday night at Jeffco Stadium.
“(Columbine) kind of put it on us the last time we played,” Thiele said. “I think that will motivate us a lot.”
Columbine handed Pomona a 35-13 loss in a 5A Metro West League meeting earlier this season.
“When we play Columbine it normally doesn’t come down to tricks. It comes down to dudes. It’s been a lot of fun over the years,” Madden said of the rivalry. “I think they are as good as anybody in the state of Colorado. It’s going to be a tough challenge, but we are looking forward to it.”
A-West closed out its fourth season under coach Brad Pyatt. The A-West graduate who was on the Wildcats’ 1997 Class 5A state championship team praised his seniors that got helped A-West become relevant again on the state stage.
“The great thing about where we are as a program is we believe we can not only compete, but beat a team like this,” Pyatt said. “For me, I’m just excited about the future of A-West. I’m really proud of this group of seniors that really resurged this program. We had a great four years with them.”
Despite playing Pomona tough through the first couple of quarters twice this season, A-West wasn’t able to end the drought against Pomona. The last time A-West defeated Pomona on the football field was in 2009.