AURORA — Down four points with less than three minutes to go in the game, Nicco Marchiol officially introduced himself to football fans in Colorado.
The sophomore is highly coveted by teams all throughout the country, but for the next three years his canon of a left arm belongs to the Colorado high school ranks. He kept getting knocked down, and he kept getting up. Right up until the point where he made the very throw that put Regis Jesuit ahead for good in a 23-13 win over Pomona.
Offensive production, especially when operating in Pomona territory, was anything but efficient for the Raiders (1-0 overall). It seemed like every time Marchiol had his team on the verge of finding the end zone, Panthers linebacker Sanjay Strickland knocked everyone backwards. And not in a gentle way.
Stickland delivered some hard hits to the Raiders' young quarterback, but with each one Marchiol got right back up and battled for his teammates.
"Nothing against Sanjay, he's one heck of a player," Marchiol said. "He gets after it. But just from experience and trusting my dudes, honestly, and I know that every single person on this team has my back and I got theirs."
Strickland sacked Marchiol three times in the first half, but the Regis quarterback still moved the ball through the air, throwing for 157 yards in the first half. The problem is they only had six points to show for it.
A lightning delay hit and after nearly two hours, Pomona had possession in the red zone. Strickland entered the game as a running back and shoved his way across the goal line to put Pomona up 7-6.
Raiders kicker Jordi de la Torre connected on another field goal to give the Raiders a 9-7 edge, but a 57-yard run from Panthers running back Ben Cruz setup another Strickland touchdown.
The Panthers (0-1) regained possession and did their best to chew time off the clock, eventually punting the ball back to Regis with under three minutes remaining. Down four points, there was no one Regis coach Danny Filleman would rather have running his offense.
"It shows his poise," Filleman said. "He's mature beyond his years as a quarterback and that's just kind of where he's our trigger man. He doesn't play like a sophomore. He didn't play like a freshman last year."
The trigger man took aim and squeezed, finding Jackson Connelly for an 80-yard touchdown pass, taking the lead once again.
"We had an out route going and the corner bit up on it," Connelly said. "I just saw it and I just ran as fast as I could."
The challenge at that point was stopping Pomona and Cruz who went for well over 100 yards on the night. The easiest way to defend him is to not let him on the field. De la Torre's kickoff caught the wind just right and bounced into play the Raiders could recover it.
The very first play after, David Dody took it 38 yards to make it a 23-13 game. A promising defensive performance for the Panthers went up in smoke in the blink of an eye.
"Two plays (was all it took)," Pomona coach Jay Madden said. "There were no drives, just two plays. An 80-yard fade and a 40 yard off-tackle play. We made enough mistakes for a season in one night, but give them credit. They won it."
Filleman acknowledged that a win over a program like Pomona is a big confidence booster for the remainder of the season. But the way the Raiders came away with the win tells a much bigger story.
A win over the Class 5A No. 5-ranked team is nice, but the emergence of a quarterback that will have those around the state talking for years will make this night memorable for all those involved.
"That went the best that it could," Marchiol said. "I'm so proud of my guys right now and like everything we did this summer led up to this moment right now."