LA JARA — For the second time in two years Centauri hosted Strasburg for a post-season game with big implications. And for the second straight year Strasburg left La Jara with a win. Strasburg grounded the Falcons, taking the semifinal meeting 44-22.
The last time these two teams met was last fall. Strasburg came down to La Jara for the 1A State Championship. It took double overtime and the first field goal attempted by either team all season to crown a champion in that 10-7 game.
This year it appeared as though things might be unfolding the same way. Having spotted Strasburg the first score two minutes into the contest, Centauri got to work. The drive stalled outside the red zone. Eric Maez converted a fourth down linking up with Tristeen Crowther to take the Falcons to the 15-yard line. Three plays later Maez would be forced to convert a second fourth down with a sneak that took the Falcons to the three-yard line. Two runs later and Taj Cornum was in for Centauri. The point after conversion tied the game at 7 apiece.
Crowther and the defense came out fired up on the following drive. Cornum found Strasburg’s Trystan Graf in the backfield to register a three-yard tackle for loss. Crowther almost got to the quarterback the next play with a hurry that forced an incompletion. On third down Crowther got to the quarterback registering a sack fumble that Strasburg recovered to kill the drive. With the ball back Centauri picked up six yards to close out the first quarter.
The Falcons opened the second quarter with a toss to Cornum off the right side that covered 55 yards. The extra point made it 14-7 giving Centauri their first lead of the game. The Falcon offense fell stagnant through the remainder of the second quarter, which hindered the defense in the field position battle.
Strasburg covered 65 yards on their next drive to tie the game on a two yard score from Graf. A Falcon three-and-out gave Strasburg possession at the Centauri 44 yard line. The visitors capitalized, turning the shortened field into points with a 37-yard field goal from Joher Mendoza to take a 17-14 lead. Another short-lived drive for the Falcons led to another shortened field for Strasburg, this time from midfield. On the second play from scrimmage Colin Russell completed a pass to Graf on the sideline. Graf broke a number of tackles for a 46-yard score to make it 23-14. Deontay Martinez of Centauri blocked the extra point to keep it that way.
With two minutes remaining Centauri couldn’t sustain another drive and the punt gave Strasburg possession at their own 39. In the final eight seconds before the half, a Mason Claunch interception at the five-yard line got Centauri to the half only trailing by 9 points.
Coming back from the locker room didn't seem to correct course for Centauri. Two takeaways netted no points for Centauri in the third quarter instead it was Strasburg who added two touchdowns going up 37-14.
With a three-possession mountain to climb and 12 minutes to do it, the Falcon offense found success with slant passes and bubble screens. Centauri would close the distance with a ten-yard connection from Maez to Johnny Morales. Maez converted the two-pointer with a pass to Claunch to make it 37-22. Unfortunately the 8-point drive cost Centauri senior Zach Martin who went down with an injury.
After a failed onside kick Strasburg drove 33 yards to the Falcon 20. Russell hit Michael Burns for the back-breaker finalizing the score at 44-22.
With the win Strasburg advances to the State Championship for the third consecutive year. Next week Strasburg will meet the odds-on-favorite for the 1A title, the Limon Badgers. Limon went a perfect 9-0 through the regular season and have been outscoring post-season opponents by an average of 34 points. When Limon met Strasburg back in September the Badgers mauled Strasburg to the tune of a 36-6 rout. Limon will travel to Strasburg for the Championship game Saturday Nov. 24.