ARVADA — It wasn’t easy, but Pomona set up a winner-take-all situation next week for the Class 5A Metro West League title.
The Panthers — No. 7 in the CHSAANow.com 5A football rankings — withstood a furious fourth-quarter rally by No. 4 Columbine late Thursday night at the North Area Athletic Complex. A 47-yard field goal attempt in the final seconds was short allowing Pomona to take a 34-33 victory over the Rebels.
“Our kids fought and fought. We are still making mistakes, but when you start eight sophomores you are going to make some mistakes,” Pomona coach Jay Madden said of his young squad. “We are going to keep getting better. That’s all we’ve been talking about.”
Pomona (6-3, 4-0 in 5A Metro West League) faces rival Ralston Valley (9-0, 4-0) with the conference title on the line next week. Kickoff will be at 7:30 pm Friday, Nov. 1, for what will be in essence a league championship game.
“It feels great. It’s the way it should be,” Madden said facing Ralston Valley in the league finale next week with a ton at stake. “A rivalry game with the league title on the line, state seeding on the line and bragging rights for a long time. We are looking forward to it.”
Pomona looked to be well in control after three quarters with a 34-21 lead on Columbine (7-2, 2-2). When junior Kyle Moretti recovered a fumble by Columbine quarterback Jadon Holliday on the Rebels’ opening possession of the fourth quarter a comeback seemed to be out of reach.
However, Columbine had a 24-yard touchdown pass from Holliday to senior Tanner Hollens on a fourth-down play with 5:18 left to make the score 34-27. Pomona was forced to punt with just over three minutes to play and the Rebels found the end zone again.
“Columbine put up a heck of a fight,” said Pomona junior receiver Jack Pospisil, who had a 36-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter. “It was a fun game.”
Columbine senior Braeden Hogan scored on a bizarre play where it was ruled that Holliday fumbled the ball backward from the 1-yard line and Hogan picked it to score with 22 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
Madden said he was surprised that the Rebels decided to kick the extra-point instead of going for a 2-point conversion. However, the PAT sailed wide to keep the Panthers in the lead 34-33.
Still, Columbine recovered the ensuing onside kick. The Rebels got down to Pomona’s 32-yard line, but the last-second field goal attempt was short.
“It just feels so good,” Moretti said after the Panthers’ fifth straight win. “We struggled early in the season, but we’ve gotten better each week and we believe in each other. We beat a really good Columbine team. We know we are taking the right steps.”
It was a seesaw first half in the top-10 match-up.
Columbine grinded out an 80-yard, 11-play drive that was capped off by a 9-yard touchdown run by Hollens. It was his 18th touchdown run of the season. Hollens actually threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Holliday in the second quarter that tied things up 14-14.
However, Pomona sophomore running back Dominick Nichols found the end zone for the second time in the first half to give the Panthers a 21-14 lead at halftime. The budding star running back had a trio of touchdown runs in the win.
“He (Nichols) is getting better and better,” Madden said. “The o-line is getting better and better. That combination is getting us better.”
Pospisil hauled in 36-yard pass from junior quarterback Brady Ritzmann for the third touchdown of the first half for the Panthers.
“We improve a lot every week,” Pospisil said of the offense. “We are young, but playing the tough schedule at the beginning of the year made us so much better. We are starting to put it together.”
Columbine has lost back-to-back 1-point games in heartbreaking fashion. The Rebels got edged by No. 2 Ralston Valley last week 24-23 on a last-minute touchdown and 2-point conversion. Columbine is back at NAAC next week. The Rebels finish off its regular season against Arvada West on Halloween night next Thursday.