1A FOOTBALL SEMIFINALS PREVIEW

Class 1A football is down to the semifinal round and both contests on Saturday are attractive.  Longtime rivals Bennett and Strasburg square off along I-70 while two of the best defenses collide in the San Luis Valley when Limon visits Centauri.  We take a look at both games in our 1A football semifinals preview.
 

STRASBURG (10-1) AT BENNETT (11-0)

The lone blemish on the Strasburg record this year is a 37-14 loss to Bennett back in week two.  The game was tight at halftime with Bennett holding a 16-8 lead but the Tigers took control by outscoring the Indians 14-0 in the third quarter.
Bennett ran just 46 plays compared to 71 for Strasburg but big plays pushed the Tigers to the win.  They collected 383 yards on just 33 attempts.  Rocky Lechman topped the rushing charges with 186 yards and two scores.  Jesse Rodriguez ran for 112 yards and a touchdown while Mason Wakeham added 70 yards and a score.
Jacob Miller topped the Indians with 66 yards on six carries and QB Carson Spence completed 10 of 18 passes for 118 yards.  Since the contest, the Indians have won nine straight including impressive playoff wins over Wray (35-6) and Burlington (21-0).
Miller has also taken over the quarterback duties so the Indians offense will look different when compared to game one.  He threw for 64 yards and a touchdown against Burlington last week.  The TD toss went to Hunter Bergstrom.  The senior also scored twice on the ground and set a personal playoff record with 178 yards rushing.  It was one yard better than the 177 he gained in the state championship win over Meeker last year.
The Indians defense has held seven opponents to a touchdown or less as well so they seem better than the first meeting.  They limited Burlington to only 63 yards on 26 carries and also kept the Cougars to just 79 yards passing.  Wyatt Warren had a big day with two fumble recoveries and he also led Strasburg with seven tackles.  Owen Strain chipped in five.
Slowing down the Bennett offense though is something no opponent has done this year.  The Tigers explosive running game has gained at least 331 yards in every game this season and tallied 60 touchdowns.  They’ve scored at least five touchdowns on the ground in eight games this year including a season best 10 against Clear Creek.
Last year in 12 games, Bennett gained 4,671 yards and entering the semifinals this year they need just 177 yards to surpass that total.  They likely would have been already if not for losing a game on stats in a forfeit win over Front Range Christian.
Individually, two players have already gone over 1,000 yards.  Lechman sits at 1,759 yards with 25 touchdowns and has nine games of at least 100 yards.  Wakeham moved past the mark in last week’s win and has 11 touchdowns and six games of over 100.  Rodriguez needs 114 yards this week to reach 1,000 for the season.  He also has 14 touchdowns despite playing in just seven games due to injury.
Lechman of late has also been a threat in the passing.  He’s completed just two passes in the post-season but have gone for scores so that’s a threat the Tigers may not have had in the first meeting this season.
A win on Saturday puts Bennett into a state championship game for the first time in school history.  Their trip to the semifinals is their second straight and second in school history.  Before last season, the program had just three playoff wins all-time but that number has jumped to seven the last two years.
Strasburg is two wins away from winning back-to-back state titles for the second time in school history.  They of course topped Meeker to win the championship last season.  They also won two straight in 1989-90.  The Indians are also 3-0 all-time in semifinal matchups.
This is the first time the two local rivals have collided in the post-season.
 

LIMON (9-2) AT CENTAURI (11-0)

The state tournament bracket has been chalk to this point except for Limon.  The Badgers spent much of the regular season in the top five but a late season loss dropped them to 10th in the playoff bracket.  They then disposed of Crowley County (19-6) on the road in round one and upset 2nd seeded Meeker (18-14) in the state quarterfinals last week.
Centauri knocked off Colorado Springs Christian (21-7) in round one and then beat Monte Vista (35-7) for a second time this season in the quarterfinals.  That win put the Falcons into the semifinals for just the second time in school history.  In their last appearance (2013), they ironically hosted Limon and beat the Badgers 21-8.  It’s the only playoff meeting between the two.
Defense has carried both teams to the semifinals and that means points may be hard to come by on Saturday.  Combined, the two clubs have given up only 128 points for the entire season.  Limon has surrendered just 75 and Centauri only 53.  The Badgers have posted six shutouts and held a seventh opponent to just six points.  The Falcons have five shutouts and unofficially six as their defense did not give a point in a 27-2 regular season win over Monte Vista.  They’ve held three other opponents to just one touchdown.
As mentioned, Centauri moved past Monte Vista last week.  Nate Anderson ran for two scores and also tossed a pair of scoring passes to Brandon Buhr.  The fifth score came on an interception return by Jackson Price.
Limon held Meeker’s offense to just 205 yards and less than four yards per carry on the ground.  The Badgers offense got touchdowns from Hauk Hubbard and Cole Younger plus Javier Zamora booted through a crucial field goal.  More importantly, the Badgers did not turn the ball and have done so only 15 times all season.  That could be an important stat again this week as the Badgers face a Centauri that forced 21 turnovers during the regular season and added three more interceptions last week.
The Badgers last won a semifinal game in 2007 when they edged Wray 23-21.  They lost to Akron in the state championship game the next week.  Overall, the Badgers have 17 state championships; the most of any program in Colorado.
Centauri has never won a football championship but played for the crown in 2013 falling to Paonia 32-24.  The win over Limon four years ago is their only semifinal victory as they lost back-to-back seasons in 1992-93.
 
 

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