A momentum changer leads to a Cherry Creek 5A semifinal football win

Cherry Creek's last-second TD before half deflates Pomona


GREENWOOD VILLAGE - All Chase Penry was looking for was a shot. A chance the 6-foot-2, 200-pound senior wide receiver almost didn't get, but a holding penalty by his team opened the door.

Top-seeded Cherry Creek was clinging to a seven-point lead with just 30 seconds left before halftime and the ball at its 39-yard line. Four plays and a penalty later, the Bruins — forced out of field-goal range — were staring at a desperation heave into the end zone from the Pomona 39.

That's when Penry and Bruins quarterback Julian Hammond drew up some magic. Their 39-yard hookup on the last play of the first half netted Cherry Creek a two-touchdown lead that quickly turned into a lopsided 35-7 5A state football semifinal victory over Pomona on the afternoon of Nov. 28 at Stutler Bowl.

“I told coach just give me an opportunity. We took a shot and I was able to make a play,” Penry said. “I'm just very thankful. It was a great ball, and I just had to go up and make a play.

The win sets up the Bruins (8-0), the defending state champions who've won 22 straight games, for a rematch with Valor Christian in the 5A state title game. The Eagles won the 2018 meeting 24-14, which also was the last time Cherry Creek has been defeated.

“Obviously, the score right before halftime was huge,” said Cherry Creek head coach Dave Logan, who will be looking for his ninth state championship and third with the Bruins. “The pass to Chase completely flipped the emotions. Then, we scored on the opening possession (of the second half). All of the sudden a 14-7 game is 28-7.”

Any momentum the Panthers (7-1) had after senior QB Jack Pospisil hit junior wideout Isaiah Alvarez for a 17-yard score just minutes earlier had evaporated. Scoring 21, much less 28 points, against Cherry Creek's vaunted defense was going to be virtually impossible. The Bruins had given up just 34 points all season entering Saturday's game and no more than 14 in any contest - and that was to Smoky Hill in the season opener.

“(The) touchdown at the end of the first half really took the wind out of our sails,” Pomona head coach Jay Madden. “We knew we were playing a great team. To get within 14-7 at halftime, we were so excited. Then to have it go 21-7, we knew scoring 21 points against that defense was going to be a hard, hard thing to do. They had a great game plan and they executed it.”

Pomona, the No. 4 seed, struggled to get its footing offensively for much of the contest. The Panthers had just 38 yards of offense before their six-play, 53-yard TD drive late in the first half. The second half wasn't any better as Cherry Creek held them to just 33 yards.

On the flip side, the Bruins had a balanced attack. Hammond completed 19-of-23 passes for 221 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including a 30-yarder to tight end Gunnar Helm. Running backs Myles Purchase and James Walker combined for 27 carries for 230 yards with Purchase scoring three TDs on runs of 4, 53 and 6 yards.

“Our coaches put in a great game plan. They put a lot of time into it,” Penry said. “We were really balanced this week running and throwing. We took our shots when we needed, and we were able to run the ball even when they knew we were going to run the ball.”

Even so, Logan complimented the Panthers' grit.

“I've been on the other end,” Logan said. “… It makes it look like the score was not indicative of how hard-fought that game was. This was a hard-fought, physical game.”

The loss ended a perfect season for Pomona (7-1), but doesn't take away from the fact that the Panthers were in the 5A state semifinals for the fifth time in six years - a stretch that included three straight championship game appearances including a title in 2017.

“I couldn't be prouder of our football team if we'd had won the national championship,” said Madden, whose team has lost five straight to Cherry Creek, including a 14-7 decision in the 2019 semifinals. “This team overachieved, maximized our potential. They did everything you could ever ask for as a coach.”


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