No. 8 Pomona football leans on defense in league opener

LAKEWOOD — Pomona’s defense was definitely ready to open up conference play in the Class 5A Metro West League on Thursday night at Jeffco Stadium.

The Panthers’ defense carried Pomona to a 23-0 shutout victory over Lakewood. Pomona — No. 8 in the latest Class 5A football standings — got a pair of defensive scores in the opening half, along with shutting out the Tigers to help the cause.

Pomona sophomore Jerrick Jackson races down the sideline after an interception against Lakewood. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)

“We are picking up our speed and really starting to gel,” Pomona senior defensive lineman Kane Courtney said. “We are making some big plays.”

Courtney produced the first of the big defensive plays for the Panthers. He got the scoring going with a sack of Lakewood quarterback Jason Duong for a safety with just over five minutes remaining before halftime. The Panthers took a 2-0 lead.

“Honestly, we weren’t getting a fire lite,” said Courtney of the scoreless first quarter. “Someone had to set it off. I had to get us some points on the board. It was too long of a drought for us. We took it in our own hands on defense.”

Pomona senior Sanjay Strickland created more problems for the Tigers in the closing minutes of the second quarter. Strickland punched the ball out of Duong’s hands on a sack to force a fumble. Pomona junior linebacker AJ Zamora picked up the loose ball and ran it in from 10 yards out for a defensive score.

“That got us going,” Strickland said of the defensive touchdown. “The offense wasn’t clicking like they are supposed to, but defense was doing our thing.”

Pomona looked to have a third defensive score, but a pick-6 by sophomore Jerrick Jackson was called back because of a personal foul after the interception and the Panthers’ offense eventually turned the ball over to fail to score.

Pomona sophomore Jerrick Jackson, left, stands up Lakewood junior Jackson White (15) during the first quarter Thursday night at Jeffco Stadium. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)

The Panthers’ offensive took advantage of Pomona’s defense giving it a short field to open the third quarter. Pomona drove 30 yards for the first offensive score of the night. Sophomore Dominick Nichols capped off the drive with a 3-yard touchdown run to make the score 16-0 early in the third quarter.

Nichols, who was pressed into running back duties due to injury, capped off the scoring with a 69-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter.

“Dominick did a great job. He hasn’t practice at running back except for two days this whole year,” Pomona coach Jay Madden said. “Now we have a two-headed monster back there and we can put Jack (Pospisil) back at wide receiver.”

Madden said he hopes to have starting quarterback Brady Ritzmann back full-time next week, along with junior running back Ben Cruz to help out the offense.

“We are just waiting for the offense to get healthy,” Strickland said. “For right now, we’ll just do everything to help us win.”

In what will be one of the toughest conference that currently features three ranked teams in the 5A football poll — No. 1 Columbine, No. 5 Ralston Valley and No. 8 Pomona — the Panthers quickly ascended to the top of the league standings with the victory.

Pomona (3-3, 1-0 in league) has played its typical challenging non-league schedule. The Panthers losses have come against No. 2 Cherry Creek, No. 3 Valor Christian and No. 6 Regis Jesuit. The Bruins, Eagles and Raiders had a combined 14-1 recording heading into this week.

“We are tired of losing,” Strickland said. “We are going to keep winning.”

Madden’s squad has the luxury of finishing out the regular season with four straight games on the Panthers’ home turf — the North Area Athletic Complex — starting next week. Pomona faces rival Arvada West next Thursday night at the NAAC.

“It’s about time,” Madden said of playing at NAAC after four of Pomona’s first five games on the road. “We have all these new black uniforms and we don’t even know what they look like. We’ve only worn them for pictures. It will be fun to get back home and get our (students) back in the stands to get going.”

Lakewood is back at Jeffco Stadium for a Thursday’s night tilt against No. 1 Columbine. The Rebels open league play on the road against the only non-Jeffco team in the conference, Mullen, at 7 pm tomorrow (Friday, Oct. 4) at De La Salle Stadium.

Pomona senior Sanjay Strickland, middle, knocks the ball out of the hands of Lakewood quarterback Jason Duong in the second quarter. Pomona junior AJ Zamora picked up the fumble to score the lone touchdown of the first half Thursday night at Jeffco Stadium. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)