Unlike their regular season meeting in which 62 points were scored two weeks earlier, the Section 5-6A semifinal between Blaine (6-3) and Centennial (5-4) favored the defenses with the Cougars earning a 17-11 win at Blaine Oct. 25.
Bengals coach Tom Develice credited the Cougars for a winning game plan that limited Blaine’s ground game.
“Our kids fought to the end and we’re all happy that those guys didn’t quit,” he said as the Bengals defense set up an entertaining finish.
Down 17-11 with one minute left on the clock, Bengals junior defensive back Logan Nelson knocked the ball free from Centennial quarterback Ryan Meany on a fourth-down bootleg. Senior Martin Cheruiyot ignited the Bengals sideline running the fumble nearly 50 yards to the Cougars nine-yard line to set up a dramatic finish.
Blaine had a would-be touchdown called back because of a holding penalty and Copa was stopped on a fourth-down quarterback draw to turn the Bengals faithful from the emotional highs to the lows, knowing the season is over.
“[Nelson] made a great play and having someone step up to make a play was exactly what we talked about,” Develice said. “We thought their defense was giving us the middle [of the field] and it didn’t work out.”
The outcome snapped Blaine’s four-game winning streak and also ended the Cougars’ three-game skid.
“It’s hard to lose the last game but the kids fought hard the whole time – to the end and as long as you are there at the end it will carry over to life and how they approach every day,” Develice said.
Blaine took the lead with 3:29 left in the first half when quarterback Alex Copa found Joe Blommer on a 23-yard touchdown play. Copa ran the ball in for the two-point conversion to make it 8-0.
Centennial responded with a late scoring drive of its own with Meany hitting Jake Kalgren from 11 yards out and the extra point kick made it 8-7 at the half.
Another stout quarter by both defenses gave way less than a minute into the fourth quarter through a 26-yard field goal by Cougars’ Mike Pierson to give the visitors a 10-8 lead, then Centennial running back Tyler Iaquinto ran for a 68-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to make it 17-8. He finished the game with 180 yards on 31 carries.
Needing a combination of field goal and touchdown, Blaine kicker Grant Boege kicked a 27-yard field goal with 3:22 left, but the comeback effort fell short at the end.
Centennial’s defense held the Bengals running game to just 2.2 yards per carry (67 yards on 30 carries), led by sophomore running back Nate Kroutil’s 14 rushes for 31 yards. He ran for 734 yards and seven touchdowns and caught 14 passes for 124 yards this season.
Develice said the run-first focus of the Bengals spread offense doesn’t run as well on longer second and third down scenarios.
“We want to control the line of scrimmage and too many times we were in second-and-long and third-and-medium,” Develice said. “Give Centennial credit for a good job preparing.”
Copa passed for 180 yards (19-35 passing) and was the Bengals leading rusher with 765 yards and nine touchdowns. completing 103-of-199 passes for 1,137 yards for seven touchdowns.
After scoring twice in the regular season finale, Nicholas Studer led the receivers with nine catches for 91 yards and Blommer had two catches for 36 yards.
Copa was the Bengals leading ball-carrier with 765 yards and nine touchdowns. He completed 103-of-199 passes for 1,137 yards for seven touchdowns.
Receiver Zach Wylie pulled in a team-high 31 passes for 379 yards and three touchdowns. Studer and Blommer each had 16 catches. Studer added 227 yards and two touchdowns and Blommer had 208 yards and a touchdown.
Blaine senior linebacker Caleb Butler led the defense with 105 tackles and 3.5 sacks. Fellow linebacker Peter Michaels was second on the team with 65 tackles and three sacks.
Defensive back Riley Hedstrom was third with 43 tackles and one interception. Defensive back Martin Cheruiyot had a team-high two interceptions to go along with 38 tackles on the season.
Despite the exit from the postseason, Develice was impressed by the progression made throughout the season by the underclassmen.
Two offensive linemen the coach pointed out were juniors Ben Heally and Jake Schoonover. Combine that with Kroutil’s sophomore breakout to run for 734 yards and seven touchdowns. He also caught 14 passes for 124 yards.
He also pointed to the sophomore seasons by defensive back Josh Browne and receiver Zach Baker along with junior Stephen Newberger to move from linebacker to defensive end after injuries forced a move. Develice also pointed to the emergence of Nelson at safety as another positive for the Bengals.
Jason Olson is at