BENNINGTON — Tyler LeClair wasn’t going to let Bennington’s best chance to win its first-ever Class B state football playoff game slip through his hands.
The No. 6 Badgers — up by six with less than 2 minutes remaining — faced fourth-and-3 from the Seward 31-yard line.
One more first down, and the game is essentially over.
Like he did numerous times all night, LeClair slipped behind the Seward linebackers and secondary on a seam route, senior quarterback Nick Bohn lofted a pass and LeClair made an impressive diving catch at the 2-yard line.
Bennington (7-3) scored two plays later to wrap up a wild 47-35 win against the No. 9 Bluejays in the opening round of the Class B state playoffs.
“There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to get it,” said LeClair, who finished with four touchdown catches. “Nick’s a good enough quarterback, he’s going to put it right where it needs to be, and I’m going to go get it.”
Said Bennington coach Greg Bohn: “Ideally we just wanted to get the first down, but Nick has great vision and saw Tyler open and he just went or it. That was awesome.”
Both offenses found success throughout the game, especially in the second half. The Bluejays and Badgers combined for seven touchdowns and one punt after halftime.
Bohn completed 22 of 30 passes for 310 yards. He was 12-for-14 for 150 in the second half, and he also rushed for 90 yards, including a 61-yard touchdown run.
But a key defensive play flipped the game around.
With the game tied 35-35 early in the fourth quarter, Seward’s Josh Sagehorn stepped in front of a passing lane to pick off a pass by Bohn, and he returned it to the Bennington 6.
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But Seward, at the time without its top two running backs, coughed up the ball at the 2-yard line and Bennington recovered.
What followed was a 15-play, 98-yard scoring drive capped by LeClair’s 11-yard touchdown catch. The drive ate nearly five minutes off the clock.
“That turned everything,” Coach Bohn said. “We had shot ourselves in the foot and we got it right back, so that huge.”
Seward lost starting tailback Gabe Knisley to a possible concussion in the second half, and backup running back Hunter Novacek later left following an apparent lower-leg injury.
But the Bluejays (5-5) didn’t go away.
Seward quarterback Ben Myers broke free for a 53-yard touchdown on fourth down, and on the final play of the third quarter, to tie the game at 35-35.
The Bluejays trailed 28-13 early in the third quarter, but Knisley scored on a 69-yard run, Seward immediately recovered an onside kick and scored again to tie the game at 28-28.
But the Badgers had too much firepower, and LeClair slipped past the Seward secondary on several seam-route plays.
“It was something Nick saw,” Coach Bohn said of his nephew. “He was able to hit that pass pretty frequently. That’s the nice thing about having a senior quarterback. He sees things, I don’t have to see everything, he’s seeing things and saying he can run this, and he makes the call.”
Despite the early exit from the playoffs, Opfer pointed to the positives. He said he was proud of the team’s effort and toughness.
Knisley, who missed the first five games of the season because of an ankle injury, rushed for 191 yards on 29 carries before leaving in the third quarter. He had 24 carries in the first half alone.
“I think he’s the best player in the state,” Opfer said. “I think that much of him. He’s a workhorse, he’s a talented kid and so we were missing him in that fourth quarter.”
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