Valor Christian defeats Pomona in top-10 5A football battle

Pomona junior AJ Zamora (7) doesn't fun much running room against Valor's defense Friday night at the NAAC. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)

ARVADA — Big football games call for big plays … and Valor running back Gavin Sawchuk delivered Friday night at the North Area Athletic Complex.

In a marquee early-season match-up between Class 5A powerhouses Valor Christian and Pomona, Sawchuk scored on a 21-yard screen pass and 64-yard touchdown run in the first half. The No. 3-ranked Eagles took a two-score lead before halftime and held on for a 17-13 victory over No. 8 Pomona.

Valor senior quarterback Cole Bott (12) drops back to pass during the first half against Pomona on Friday night at the NAAC. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)

“Those were huge plays and sometimes that is the difference in a game,” Valor coach Ed McCaffrey said. “One team makes one more big play and I think that is what happened tonight.”

Pomona (1-2 record) did take an early lead with an impressive 80-yard drive to open the game. Senior Chase Lopez finished off the drive for the Panthers with a 10-yard touchdown catch from junior quarterback Brady Ritzmann. Lopez is actually a move-in transfer from Valor.

Valor (2-1) answered with a 53-yard scoring drive. Sawchuk bowled over a Pomona defender as he barreled into the end zone to tie the game at 7-7. The sophomore’s long touchdown run opened up the second quarter to give the Eagles their first lead at 14-7.

“The line was able to make blocks and open the hole,” Sawchuk said of his 64-yard touchdown run. “The fullback led and took out the linebacker. It was wide-open. All I had to do was run.”

Valor senior Brian Borgan kicked a 37-yard field goal to cap the scoring in the first half and give Valor a two-score lead at 17-7 at the break.

Sawchuk finished with 29 carries for 174 yards on the night. Senior quarterback Cole Bott was 9-for-15 passing for 142 yards.

Pomona senior Chase Lopez (29) goes head-to-head against Valor junior Zaire Jackson on Friday night. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)

Bott helped seal the victory after Pomona cut the lead to 17-13 with 5:43 left in the fourth quarter. Junior Jack Pospisil grabbed an 8-yard catch from Ritzmann for the lone score in the second half.

However, Bott converted on a pair of third-down plays late to allow Valor to keep the ball away from the Panthers in the final minutes and run out the clock.

“I’m glad we won,” Sawchuk said of Valor being shutout after halftime. “I know we have to go back to the drawing board and figure out what we did wrong in the second half.”

Valor stays on the road. The Eagles face Pine Creek — top-ranked team in 4A — on Thursday night in Colorado Springs.

“Every win is nice. I don’t take any of them for granted,” said McCaffrey, who has an overall coaching record 16-1 into his second year at the helm of the Eagles’ football program. “There are a lot of good football teams out there and coach Jay Madden has been doing this for a long time. They are well-coached and have some speed and physical football players.”

The Panthers’ defense gave Pomona an opportunity to stay in the game. The offense finally capitalized midway through the fourth quarter with a 67-yard scoring drive capped off by Pospisil’s fourth touchdown of the season.

Pospisil had six catches for 91 yards and the touchdown. Pomona did struggle with its ground game. The Panthers mustered up less than 100 yards rushing on the night.

“I thought we grew up a lot tonight,” Pomona coach Jay Madden said. “We made a ton of mistakes, but that’s on me. We’ll get that fixed. We showed a lot of heart and the future is still bright.”

Pomona gets another huge non-conference test next week. The Panthers travel to Stutler Bowl next Friday night to face No. 2 Cherry Creek.