BENNETT — Big plays at key moments helped Strasburg football return to the Class 1A football championship game.
The defending champions beat No. 1-seeded Bennett, their nearby rival who entered the game unbeaten, 41-34 in the semifinals on a crisp Saturday afternoon.
"I wasn't so sure about this one, and when you're not so sure, that's when you've got to just dig in and figure it out," said Bennett quarterback Jake Miller, who threw two touchdown passes and ran for another. "It was great, it was fun. They were a hell of a team."
Bennett had led 15-7 early in the second quarter, but Strasburg seized the momentum in the form of 27 unanswered points to close the half. Included was a blocked punt that Ashton Houshell recovered in the end zone that made it 34-15.
"We needed a little momentum, because they had it," said Strasburg coach Jeff Giger. "With their punt formation, we thought we could get one. It really changed the momentum."
Bennett didn't throw in the towel, though.
The Tigers came out of halftime with fire, and Jesse Rodriquez scored his third rushing touchdown of the game to make it 34-21. It stayed that way until the fourth quarter when the Tigers' Rocky Lechman hit Trever Miller for a 30-yard touchdown, trimming the Strasburg lead further to 34-27.
But Strasburg, and Miller, had an answer. Facing fourth-and-1 with just under five minutes to play, Miller broke through the line for a 47-yard touchdown that seemed to deflate the massive home crowd. That made it 41-27 Strasburg.
"That fourth-and-1 run by Jake was a huge one, and these kids, they just — I don't know, they play so well together," Giger said. "It's so much fun."
Again Bennett battled back, with Lechman finding Rodriquez on a 20-yard touchdown, but Strasburg recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock.
Hunter Bergstrom and Michael Burns also had rushing touchdowns for Strasburg on Saturday.
The win avenged an earlier 37-14 loss to Bennett for Strasburg.
"They whooped us," Miller said. "We had to redeem ourselves and that's what we did."
"This game was big for both communities," Giger said. "They do such a great job there, and they got us that first time. The kids just battled all year and really wanted this chance. They got it, and held on."
Strasburg will advance to the 1A championship next week at Centauri. The Falcons beat Limon 20-12 in the other semifinal on Saturday.