ARVADA – There are two games high school coaches and players hate to lose – homecoming and the playoffs.
So when the Pomona Panthers beat the Bear Creek Bears, 34-26, at homecoming the Bears vowed revenge.
And what better way to take it than to end Pomona’s playoff hopes?
Such were the Bears gridiron hopes as they took to the field Friday night for a quarterfinal playoff game against the Panthers at the North Area Athletic Complex.
And things started well enough. But were this a Dickens novel, its title would be “A tale of two halves.” Or, perhaps, “A tale of one half and one quarter.”
The Bears owned the first half, seemingly doing everything right after a sluggish first-drive start. The defense seemed on track right from the start, led by a massive hit by senior Isaac Quintana that ended the Panthers’ drive at their own 43.
An excellent punt left the Bears backed up to their own 12-yard-line. Lukas Lockett got the call and carried out to the 18. Two plays later senior quarterback Zach Thenell hit senior Armani Brewington with a pass to the 34.
The Bear machine was humming.
Seven plays later Lockett would open the scoring when he burst over from the 5-yard-line. A missed point-after attempt gave the Bears a 6-0 lead.
That lead lasted just 16 seconds: On the ensuing kickoff Pomona junior Jamar Hebert fielded the ball at the two, made a quick juke at the 15, cut to his left and raced down the sideline for the touchdown. Dylan Carter’s extra point gave the Panthers a one point lead, 7-6.
Columbine vs. Lakewood game gallery. All photos courtesy George Kochaniec, Jr. Click to view.
Thenell and company took over at their own 20 with 2:49 left in the first. Two keeper calls opened the drive, with Thenell gaining 17 yards. Lockett got 24 on the next play. Six plays later the Bears found themselves with a second-and-10 at the Panthers 15. Thenell stood tall in the pocket and lofted a beautiful spiral that softly landed in the outstretched hands of Brewington. He took two steps and crossed the goal at the front pylon.
A try for two was unsuccessful and Bear Creak led 12-7.
Pomona’s fortunes weren’t any better on the next drive. Starting from their own 31, the Panthers moved 10 yards before things began to go awry. On first down, senior quarterback Nathan Grimes went to pass. Bear Creek Senior linebacker Vincent Delmonico was all over him, but couldn’t quite bring him down. As the two struggled and started to fall to the turf, Grimes tried to pass. The official flagged him for intentional grounding. That left the Panthers with a second-and-31. They got four yards on the next play, but were then hit with a delay penalty. On third-and-32 Grimes was sacked by seniors Jake Utley and Travis Barlock.
With 7:59 left in the half, the Bears set up at their 34. Lockett carried around right end for 12. Thenell kept for 13. Then Lockett got nine. On first-and-goal from the 12, Thenell executed a brilliant draw to Lockett, who easily scored. A trick PAT attempt, that was supposed to end with Thenell catching a pass on the right side, missed him by little more than a foot. The Bears led 18-7 with triple nickels showing on the clock.
The Panthers, it seemed, were their own first half enemies. On second down, Grimes had to leap high for a bad snap out of the shotgun. He came down with the ball, but it wasn’t very secure. He was hit by senior linebacker Cody Nolte. The ball came loose. Nolte thought he had it, but someone else grabbed it away.
“It slipped right out of my hands into his,” said Nolte, who identified Delmonico as the thief.
With first-and-10 from the 11, the Bears wasted no time in scoring. On second down, Lockett burst up the middle from seven yards out. Sophomore Nick Dalton was called on for the PAT and the Bears led 25-7, with more than four minutes left in the half.
A good runback on the kickoff set the Panthers up just 10 yards shy of midfield. Senior Tyler Pace, the workhorse of the Panthers offense, got the call three consecutive times. On the last one, from 20 yards out, he sliced through the Bears line like an ice-cutter in the Antarctic and bulled his way into the end zone. The PAT was good and the half ended with the Bears leading 25-14.
The best analogy to describe the third quarter, in which neither team scored, would be two heavyweight fighters in the middle of the ring flailing away at each other.
Bear Creek’s most promising drive of the quarter suffered a serious setback when Brewington seemingly caught a pass from Thenell for a long gain. The refs, however, flagged him as an ineligible receiver. Seems he had stepped out of bounds during his run and re-entered the field. According to coaches, the rules state a player can do that and still participate in the play, they just can’t be the first person to touch the ball.
Two plays into the fourth quarter the Bears punted and their demise began.
Pomona took possession at its own 15. Pace, ever the bulldozer, grinded out 13. After an incomplete pass, Grimes handed to Pace who slipped past the line, eluded the linebackers, cut to his left and got past the lone safety. With nothing but pay dirt ahead, the senior sprinted to the end zone. A pass from Grimes to Cody Morton for the two-point attempt was successful, and the Bears’ lead had been cut to three, 25-22.
In their next series, Thenell passed to the middle. But instead of a completion, Pomona’s Daijon Tyler was there for the pick. He drew a bead on the right sideline, skirted past a couple of Bear Creek linemen and zipped into the end zone.
Carter’s extra point put the Panthers up, 29-25. The Bears’ lead was gone, and, effectively, their playoff hopes.
But there was still 10:30 left to play.
On its next series, Bear Creek went three and out. A great punt set the Panthers up at their 23. Pace got the call on five of the drive’s seven plays. Clearly the Panthers were in clock-control mode. On third-and-5 from the Bears 23, junior Nick Allen cut to his left at the line, then back to the right and raced the final 20 yards for a touchdown.
With the temperature dropping, the wind picking up and just 6:05 left, the Bears were facing a daunting task, down 36-25.
On fourth-and-4 from the 44, Thenell made a valiant effort to get the first down, but Pomana junior Dustin Conley made an acrobatic catch to pick off Thenell’s pass. Five plays later, Grimes kept and scored from 32 yards out. The PAT made it 43-25 with just 2:38 to play.
Three plays into the Bears’ next possession, Thenell was intercepted for the final time of the night. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty pushed the Panthers into Bears territory. Grimes took a knee and let the clock play out.
The Bears season ends at 6-6. The Panthers, at 11-1, advance to next week’s game against Fairview, 10-7 winners over Columbine.