AURORA | What most might call nervewracking, Tama Tuitele and the Regis Jesuit defense call a “rush.”
Tuitele and the Raiders’ defense took the field Nov. 10 at Lou Kellogg Stadium with a seven-point lead to defend against rival Mullen. They wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Senior Jake Heimlicher forced a fumble and senior Ben Hecht pounced on it with under a minute to play as Regis Jesuit held on for a cathartic 17-10 win in a Class 5A state football first round playoff game.
“It’s a rush, knowing it’s all on the defense — if they score, it’s on us, if we stop them, it’s on us,” said Tuitele, whose sixth-seeded Raiders (10-1) set up a 7 p.m. Nov. 17 quarterfinal with No. 3 Columbine (10-1) at Jeffco Stadium.
“It’s a thrill ride being out there. I’m not sure who stripped it, but I saw the ball flying out and all of us running to it. It was a scramble and to come out with the football was crazy.”
Besides his game-ending forced fumble, Heimlicher had an interception and caught a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, junior Kiahn Martinez ripped off a 90-yard kickoff return for a score and senior Pierce Thrasher knocked through a field goal in the opening half for coach Danny Filleman’s sixth-seeded Raiders, who made 5A’s final eight for the fourth straight season.
The Regis Jesuit-Mullen result was the only “crazy” one of the eight 5A first round contests, as the average margin of victory in the other seven was 30 points.
Filleman knew that wouldn’t be the case in Regis Jesuit’s contest.
“Mullen is a great team; they are big up front, they’ve got great atheltes and Coach (Tom) Thenell does a great job with them,” Filleman said. “They were prepared. We told our guys they were going to be in a dogfight for four quarters.”
There’s always an extra layer to a game between the Raiders and Mustangs due to their long-standing parochial school rivalry, but Regis Jesuit couldn’t have had more incentive coming in.
The Raiders had dropped three straight postseason meetings with Mullen and also lost a 40-39 contest in Week 2. That game saw the teams combine for 79 points and more than 800 yards of total offense, while the Mustangs won it with a 26-point fourth quarter flurry.
The rematch was the antithesis, as Thrasher’s 33-yard field goal provided the only points in a game that went into the fourth quarter with the Raiders up 3-0.
Heimlicher and Trent Grote each secured turnovers in the opening half for the Raiders, who also turned it over twice themselves in the first two quarters.
“It was a lot different,” Tuitele said. “Both defenses were just flying all over the place and it was turnover after turnover. We’re lucky our offense was able to put up some touchdowns when we needed them.”
Regis Jesuit’s first touchdown came when senior quarterback Justin Lamb engineered a drive that culminated in a 14-yard touchdown pass to Heimlicher, his tight end.
Mullen countered with a scoring drive that resulted in a Vincenzo Suarini 39-yard goal to cut the deficit to seven points at 10-3, but Martinez answered immediately with a 90-yard kickoff return to push the lead back to 14 points.
“That was the biggest spark we could get at that moment,” Filleman said. “We had our hands team out there and he just kind of took over and does what Kiahn does.”
Mullen made a big play of its own a short time later when sophomore quarterback Kyle Remington hit AJ Naha with a 33-yard touchdown pass to bring it back to a seven-point game with less than five minutes left to play.
Cade Mendenhall’s clutch third-down catch helped the Raiders milk some time off the clock, but the Mustangs got the ball back and drove to the Regis Jesuit 14 yard-line before Heimlicher forced the fumble that Hecht secured.
“I love putting the defense out there at the end; we love to be the ones out there to stop them,” Heimlicher said. “I’ve never beaten Mullen before, from freshman all the way to varsity, so to beat them for the first time ever in this game is awesome.”
Next up is a matchup against Columbine, which ran past No. 14 Highlands Ranch 45-14.
Courtney Oakes is Aurora Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel
(6) REGIS JESUIT 17, (11) MULLEN 10
Score by quarters:
Mullen 0 0 0 10 — 10
Regis Jesuit 0 3 0 14 — 17
Regis Jesuit — Pierce Thrasher 33 yard field goal
Regis Jesuit — Jake Heimlicher 14 yard pass from Justin Lamb (Thrasher kick)
Mullen — Vincenzo Suarini 39 yard field goal
Regis Jesuit – Kiahn Martinez 90 yard kickoff return (Thrasher kick)
Mullen — AJ Naha 33 yard pass from Kyle Remington (Suarini kick)
Mullen: A’Jon Vivens 17-49, Damien Cearns 9-22, Zach Krause 3-12, Cooper Johnson 2-7, Kyle Remington 2-(minus 9)
Regis Jesuit: Kiahn Martinez 18-62, Tama Tuitele 1-1, Justin Lamb 4-(minus 4)
Mullen: Remington 13-27, 175 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception
Regis Jesuit: Lamb 18-28, 160 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception
Mullen: Vaughnn Stitt 5-64, AJ Naha 1-33, Adrian Jackson 2-33, Wind Henderson 1-16, Cearns 1-15, Krause 1-7, Max Ward 1-7
Regis Jesuit: Aubrey Marschel-Parker 9-56, Jack Peppercorn 4-48, Cade Mendenhall 4-42, Jake Heimlicher 1-14