The third-ranked Lions advanced to the state championship game for the first time, controlling the ball for the final 6:27 to hold off the Trojans.
TACOMA — Gordon Elliott held up the third-place trophy and told his Auburn High School football players to be proud of it.
“We fought a great battle,” he said after the Trojans fell to Bellarmine Prep of Tacoma, 21-19 in the Class 4A state semifinals Saturday night at the Tacoma Dome. “Nobody expected you to be here. Nobody, let alone be within two points. So hold your head high and be proud about it.”
Even with tears in their eyes, the Trojans’ seniors tried to do just that.
“We fought hard the whole game,” said Auburn’s Harold Lee, who rushed for 96 yards and a touchdown. “In the end, they just pounded the ball. Bellarmine’s a good team.”
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Good enough to be in the championship game for the first time in school history. The third-ranked Lions (12-1) play No. 1 Skyline (13-0) for the title at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Tacoma Dome.
Bellarmine Prep and Auburn struggled most of the night on offense, but when the Lions needed to run out the clock, they had just the guy to carry the ball. Lou Millie rushed for 61 of his game-high 123 yards on the final drive, which ate up the final 6 minutes, 27 seconds.
“It’s what I had to do,” Millie said.
The Trojans (10-3) also were looking for their first appearance in a title game. They also lost in their previous two trips to the semis, most recently to Bellevue in the 3A tournament in 2006.
A missed extra point on Auburn’s opening touchdown drive proved costly, and Bellarmine seemed comfortably in control with a 21-12 lead with 8 ½ minutes to play.
Then Darnell Hagans broke a 70-yard touchdown run with 6:27 on the clock, and the PAT cut it to 21-19.
But Bellarmine never gave the ball back.
Things started well for the Trojans as they marched 69 yards in 10 plays to open the game. Lee was the spark with a 46-yard burst on third-and-5. He got the call again on fourth-and-goal from the 1 and got into the end zone. But Axel Barajas missed the PAT and Auburn had to settle for a 6-0 lead.
It didn’t last long.
Bellarmine answered with a 79-yard drive that was aided by a pair of personal-foul penalties. Sefo Liufau scored on a 1-yard keeper and Matthew Philichi — who kicked a game-winning field goal against Gonzaga Prep in the quarterfinals — drilled the conversion kick to give the Lions a lead they never relinquished.
Bellarmine got another opportunity when Kevin Shelton fumbled two plays later at the 20, but Hagans saved Auburn by intercepting a pass that bounced off Nick Selden.
Both offenses then stalled and it appeared Auburn might go into the half down just 7-6, especially after Bellarmine faced first-and-20 from its 34 after a holding penalty less than 3 ½ minutes before intermission.
But on the next play, Liufau dropped back and saw a streaking Drew Griffin open downfield. He hit him in stride at the 20 and Griffin breezed into the end zone as the Lions extended their lead to 14-6.
The Trojans made it interesting in the third on a bruising, 38-yard TD run by Jacob Waldo.
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