Bennett scores 4 times, nabs interception as Knights rally, go to state

The Knights start the celebration of their state football tournament berth after beating Centennial Nov. 5. (Photo by Jake Schroer)

After blowing out Burnsville in the opening round of the 32-team Class 6A tournament, the Knights had anything but a simple time against Centennial Nov. 5. Back in September, the Knights rallied from a 16-0 deficit to defeat the Cougars at home, and they needed another rally in Friday night’s game.

Things started well for the Knights as they drove down and scored on their opening drive. Jarrett Bennett got them there on a 32-yard touchdown run to make it 7-0. Less than 20 seconds later, Lance Nielsen Jr. broke free for a long touchdown of his own to tie it.

The Knights made some mistakes, which led to two more touchdowns for the Cougars and a 21-7 deficit at the end of the opening quarter. When Lance Liu scored to make it a 28-7 game, things looked dire for STMA.

Just before halftime, Owen Neros hit Riley Purcell on a short fade route for a touchdown, points the Knights desperately needed. The score was a more manageable 28-14 at the break.

STMA came out firing in the third quarter. A fumble recovery led to Bennett’s second touchdown of the game, and STMA cut the score to 28-21. A field goal by Purcell cut the deficit even further.

Just before the end of the third quarter, the Knights got another touchdown from Bennett to cap off a 21-point comeback and take a 31-28 lead.

In the fourth, Nielson Jr. broke free of the STMA defense for a long touchdown to give Centennial a 35-31 lead. Facing that deficit, the Knights turned it over on downs at their own 32 and things briefly looked bleak until the Cougars turned it right back over on the next play.

Bennett scored his fourth touchdown of the game with 1:36 left to give the Knights a 38-35 lead. With less than a minute left, the Cougars drove into STMA territory needing just a field goal to tie the game.

To ensure that his last touchdown was indeed the game winner, Bennett intercepted the final pass of the game, sending the STMA crowd into a frenzy. After a 2020 season cut short, the Knights were going back to the state tournament.

Head coach Jared Essler said that the team needed that late touchdown in the first half to change the momentum.

“We were gonna take two shots, threw the fade and we were lucky to hit the first one the first time,” he said.

Bennett said that the team never gave up despite getting punched in the mouth.

“We came out with a dub, and that’s all it’s about,” he said. “We never lost hope.”

Bennett and Max Keefer combined for most of STMA’s 248 rushing yards. Neros threw for 157 yards and a touchdown.

The Knights open the state tournament at Park Center High School against conference foe Wayzata.

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