Vengeance is sweet. Postseason vengeance is even sweeter.
Regis Jesuit got payback for its lone regular season loss with a 17-10 victory over Mullen in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs on Friday at Lou Kellogg Stadium, where the Raiders rode stout defense to a grinding win.
“We were trying to keep them off balance — that was the main key for us tonight,” Regis Jesuit coach Danny Filleman said. “Our defense came to play, and to win games in the playoffs, you’re going to have to have a strong defense until the offense gets their rhythm.”
The first half of Friday’s battle starkly contrasted the Mustangs’ 40-39 barnburner victory on Sept. 8, as the teams traded turnovers throughout the opening quarters and pressure by both defensive fronts kept the quarterbacks from settling in.
Senior Pierce Thrasher’s 33-yard field goal in the second quarter gave Regis Jesuit a 3-0 lead heading into the locker room, and senior defensive end Jake Heimlicher had an interception and a sack to assert the Raiders defensively in the first half.
The second half was more of the same physical back and forth, and sophomore nose guard Aidan Ikaika Keanaaina and the Mustangs’ defense held steady against a Regis Jesuit offense that put together drives but couldn’t muster any points.
“We knew it was going to be a battle coming in, because that’s a very talented team and the stakes are always higher against a rival,” Filleman said. “Even in the second half, when we went up, they continued to come back.”
But while the Mullen defense turned in perhaps its best performance of the season against quarterback Justin Lamb, junior running back Kiahn Martinez and Regis Jesuit, the Raiders’ defense consistently answered the bell.
.@RegisJesuitHS senior DE/TE @jake_heimlicher talks Raiders’ defensive stand to seal first round playoff win, the feeling of avenging regular season loss to Mullen & more #copreps pic.twitter.com/VC03cl7idT
— Kyle Newman (@KyleNewmanDP) November 11, 2017
Senior linebacker Tama Tuitele provided a mean presence in the middle of the field, senior cornerback Patrick Roe had several crucial pass breakups on long tosses from Mullen sophomore quarterback Kyle Remington, and senior Sean Dunnington and his fellow defensive linemen caused consistent chaos in the Mustangs’ backfield.
Heimlicher added to his highlight performance with a touchdown grab early in the fourth quarter to make it a 10-0 Raiders advantage, but the Mustangs responded with a long drive that culminated with a 40-yard field goal by senior Vincenzo Saurini.
But there were still a few haymakers to come.
Martinez ran 95 yards to the house on the ensuing kickoff return to make it 17-3. A Remington touchdown strike to AJ Naha the next drive cut the Raiders’ lead to 17-10, and then the Regis Jesuit defensive line forced a fumble just outside the Mullen red zone to seal the win in the final minute.
“Last game we played them, we came up short,” Heimlicher said. “We just had to dig deep to find that extra little strength that we could to get that win. Last time we lost with four seconds left, and it was the biggest heartbreaker I’ve ever faced.”
The Raiders (10-1) now take on No. 3 Columbine (10-1) in the quarterfinals next week, as the Rebels beat Highlands Ranch (6-5) 45-14 at Jeffco Stadium. Coach Tom Thenell and the Mustangs (5-6) finished under .500 for the first time since 2014.
Listen to the archived broadcast: