New year, new challengers, same result. Bishop Kelly football back in the

Clinging to its playoff life, the Bishop Kelly High football team turned to the unit that has made it one of the state’s premier programs for decades — its defense.

The Knights sent the house nursing a seven-point lead at its own 11-yard line late in the fourth quarter. The blitz forced Vallivue quarterback Lan Larison to throw the ball away on fourth down, and Bishop Kelly ran out the final 5 minutes, 8 seconds of the clock to hang on for a 34-27 win at home in the 4A state semifinals.

The victory lifts Bishop Kelly into the state championship game for the fifth time in six years. The No. 2-ranked Knights (10-1) face No. 1 Hillcrest (11-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 17, at Boise State’s Albertsons Stadium.

“It never gets old,” Bishop Kelly coach Tim Brennan said. “It’s one game at a time, but this is where we wanted to be, playing the weekend before Thanksgiving.”

[Related: 5A to 1A state playoff brackets]

That goal wasn’t guaranteed entering the season. The Knights fell in the state quarterfinals last season and had to start over after graduating seven first-team all-conference members and seven more on the second team.

But the perennial powerhouse reloaded behind 27 seniors to restore three traditions at Bishop Kelly — a physical running game, a shutdown defense and state championship game appearances.

“I feel like we ended early (last season) and we need to finish that this year,” Bishop Kelly senior Matt Heilman said. “That’s what we’re here for.”

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Brady King leaps over the Vallivue defense for a 1-yard touchdown run in the Bishop Kelly’s 34-27 win over Vallivue in 4A state semifinals Friday at Bishop Kelly High.

Katherine Jones kjones@idahostatesman.com

Vallivue (8-4) entered the game as the state’s top offense at 46.5 points per game, and the Falcons hung 39 points on Bishop Kelly in Week 2. But the Knights held an offense that had scored 50 or more points in three straight weeks in check.

Bishop Kelly forced two turnovers and three three-and-out drives to limit Vallivue to 353 total yards, 148 below their season average.

“It’s a bold statement,” Bishop Kelly senior linebacker Mike Stone said, “but we’re the best defense in the state.”

Bishop Kelly jumped out to a 34-13 lead in the third quarter after Heilman recovered a fumble and Jackson Huskey broke free for a 39-yard touchdown run two plays later. But a hobbled Vallivue came roaring back.

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Bishop Kelly’s Matt Heffner hauls in a touchdown pass while battling with Vallivue’s Jayden Moran in the 4A state semifinals Friday.

Katherine Jones kjones@idahostatesman.com

Fighting through a heavy limp, Larison threw touchdown passes of 17 and 22 yards to Jayden Moran to cut the deficit to seven points. Cobe Lehman then blocked a punt to set the Falcons up at the Bishop Kelly 32-yard line with 6:36 left. But the Knights’ defense answered the bell one final time.

“We didn’t play great in that fourth quarter,” said Jackson Lightner, a senior tight end/defensive end. “But when we needed them to step up, they did.”

The loss ended a historic season for Vallivue, which reached the state semifinals for the first time since 2000. Larison finished 13-for-29 for 161 yards and two TDs while running for 62 yards and two more scores. Moran caught nine passes for 113 yards and two TDs.