ARVADA — Nathan Wiggins wasn’t really sure what happened with 8 minutes, 43 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Pomona Panthers were trying to pick on him at the North Area Athletic Complex as they trailed the Columbine Rebels 23-8. The home team was going for a home run and Wiggins was their prey.
The senior defensive back got inside position on a 30-yard pass attempt and seemed to snare the ball with one hand on a cold night Nov. 14. The pick sealed the Rebels’ Class 5A state quarterfinal victory over the only team to beat them this season.
“I don’t remember. I just know I came down with it,” Wiggins said of his one-armed heroics. “You know, I just felt like somebody needed to step up. I saw the deep ball going. I knew it was coming sometime. It had to come. It was up in the air and nobody was coming down with it but me.”
Wiggins’ interception was one of four Columbine takeaways, which led to its opening field goal and stopped a Pomona drive on the Rebels’ 21 late in the first quarter and another on their 5 early in the fourth quarter.
“Defense played great,” Rebels coach Andy Lowry said. “We knew it was going to be a defensive battle. It’s so hard to get anything from their defense, that’s for sure, and our defense did a great job.”
A sophomore would set the tone. On third-and-3 with the ball inside the Columbine 25, Pomona quarterback Nathan Grimes dropped back in the face of an oncoming blitz and tried to throw across his body to where the Panthers had set up a screen play.
Kevin Osborne was not fooled and he managed to leap amongst a crowd of Panthers and come down with the ball on the Columbine 21.
“He did stay home,” Lowry said. “We knew something was up. We thought probably a reverse to (Dylan Buononato). We thought something was coming back that way.”
Sean Neu came up with the second turnover as the junior defensive back closed down yards of space to make a nice grab on a Grimes pass and keep the Panthers off the scoreboard in the first half.
Down 23-8 in the second half, the Panthers marched to the Rebels’ 5 on their subsequent drive, only for Grimes to lose the ball on the exchange from center and senior Jacob Wright to pounce.
“They’re a great offense and a very good football team, but if they don’t have the ball, they can’t score,” Wright said.
Pomona had one last gasp with the ball at the 50 and went for it all on its first play. Enter Wiggins, and exit the Panthers.
“First time we played them, turnovers made the outcome of the game,” Wiggins said. “Second time we played them, we might as well take those turnovers.”