DENVER - Prepare for a Mile High showdown. On Saturday, Sports Authority Field will host the 4A and 5A state football title games. Players, coaches and administrators got their first look at the championship venue on Tuesday.
"It's just a great opportunity and me and my teammates, we can't wait to be here on Saturday," Eaglecrest senior Victor Garnes said. "We haven't been able to do this since 1993, the last time our school won a state championship."
In the 5A classification, Pomona (11-2) will face off with Eaglecrest (13-0) -- two teams with a very different history when it comes to the state title game. The Raptors last played for a state championship back in 1993, where they defeated Hinkley 37-29. The Panthers have now qualified for the 5A state title game three years in a row.
"We've been here, we've done this before, but it's never going to get old to me," Pomona senior quarterback Ryan Marquez said of the stadium walk-through. "Like my coach said, there's 25, 30 teams that have never gone to a state title, and we're just blessed to be out here. Coming out here with your friends, playing in a professional stadium for a state title, it doesn't get better than this."
Pomona has more than just experience heading into Saturday's game, they're hungry. The Panthers lost the previous two title games to rival Valor Christian, and were forced to play the 2016 championship without three of its top players who were out with injuries.
"Obviously last year, we had lost two of our gunners coming in, but this year our team is really healthy, so I'm excited to see what it's going to be like with a full team," Marquez said. "We're all ready to go. We've all got each other's backs, and we're looking out for one another and we're going out there to get a state title come Saturday."
"As a team and individually, we have a lot of fuel in our chest," Pomona senior running back Max Borghi added. "We're just looking to go out there, especially it being our last shot, we're going to go give it everything we've got and hopefully come out on top."
Eaglecrest was the only team in the 5A classification to finish a perfect 10-0 in the 2016 season, before getting knocked out in the playoffs. This team has been working for years to make it to the last Saturday of the football season.
"Our story started about three years ago, when these young men -- a lot of them were sophomores -- and I forced them to play because we had to get better," Eaglecrest head coach Mike Schmitt said of his team. "This is an opportunity we do not look lightly upon. These seniors have earned it."
Rarely have these two teams crossed paths. There is mutual respect between the players, and, when mixed with the talent, should produce one of the most entertaining games of the year.
"It's going to be a really fast-paced game, I feel like," Borghi said. "We've got a lot of athletes on both sides of the ball offensively and defensively. Everyone has players."
"Everybody on the team is going to cherish every little last moment here, and when we get here Saturday, we're going to play a great opponent, we're going to do everything we can to try to win the game, but it's not going to be easy," Garnes said.
The 4A state playoff between Pine Creek and Pueblo South will kick off at 11 a.m. Saturday morning at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Pomona and Eaglecrest will take the field at 2:30 p.m.
The 3A state title game between Pine Creek and Palmer Ridge will take place Saturday at 1 p.m. at the United States Air Force Academy.
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