Eaglecrest senior wideout Theryne Sandoval-Jimenez, #18, hauls in a touchdown during the Raptors' semifinal win over Columbine. Eaglecrest takes on Pomona for the Class 5A title on Saturday.
Andy Cross/The Denver Post
Eaglecrest senior wideout Theryne Sandoval-Jimenez, #18, hauls in a touchdown during the Raptors’ semifinal win over Columbine. Eaglecrest takes on Pomona for the Class 5A title on Saturday.

The journeys for Pomona and Eaglecrest to the Class 5A state title game have both been three seasons in the making.

For the Panthers, the story arch is clear. Pomona, runner-up to Valor Christian the last two seasons, is now poised for its best chance yet to capture the program’s second state title and first since 1988.

“I told them a long time ago, when we first started, that I thought they deserved to be here again,” Pomona coach Jay Madden said. “But they have to earn what happens on Saturday, and they know they’ve got a great opponent to play against.”

That opponent comes in the form of an Eaglecrest team that, although without the recent illustrious playoff resume of their counterpart, has also been building toward Saturday since external circumstances caused the team to miss the postseason in 2015.

That fall, the youthful Raptors — starting many of this year’s senior standouts as sophomores — played well enough to put themselves in the playoffs, only to have the rug yanked out from under them when Highlands Ranch forfeited three victories due to the illegal use of a headset.

The infraction and the corresponding wins it credited to opponents Highlands Ranch had previous beaten bumped the 4-6 Raptors out of the state tournament field.

“At that moment, our boys made a decision — nobody, not one person, was ever going to decide our fate but us,” Eaglecrest coach Mike Schmitt said. “And since then, we have changed the way we do things at Eaglecrest High School. I can tell you this — this is an opportunity we do not look lightly upon, and it’s an opportunity we have worked for since that day.”

Both defenses figure to have their hands full containing the big play as senior quarterbacks Ryan Marquez (Pomona) and Jalen Mergerson (Eaglecrest) each have an array of speedy backs and wideouts at their disposal, including two human highlight reels in Panthers senior tailback Max Borghi and Raptors senior receiver/returner Victor Garnes.

Pomona coach Jay Madden believes the Big Black defense, led by a pair of sophomore linebackers, is up for the challenge after turning in its best performance of the season against Grandview last week.

“They were learning so fast and were having to play really good teams early in the season, so they kind of got thrown to the wolves and they got torn up a little bit,” Madden said. “But it made them grow up, create some leadership, and once they created their confidence — and started believing in each other and believing in the scheme — they started playing incredibly great football.”

2017 CHSAA 5A state title

When: Saturday, 2:30 p.m.

Where: Sports Authority Field

Listen Live: Post Preps Radio

Matchup: No. 2 Eaglecrest vs. No. 4 Pomona

Records: Raptors 13-0, Panthers 11-2

Eaglecrest Keys: Sr. QB Jalen Mergerson, Sr. RB Kenny Wantings, Sr. WR/DB Victor Garnes, Sr. FS Corey Corbin, Sr. LB Kyante Christian, Soph. T/DT Reece Atteberry, Jr. T/DT Barrett Miller

Pomona Keys: Sr. QB Ryan Marquez, Sr. RB Max Borghi, Jr. WR Billy Pospisil, Sr. CB Santos Maguina, Soph. MLB Sanjay Strickland, Soph. MLB Kyle Moretti, Sr. SS Mateo Crespin

Tickets: CHSAA State Football Championship

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