The first time Foothill played Basic this season, the Falcons had to claw back from a 21-point deficit.
Foothill made sure that wasn't necessary Thursday.
The Falcons gained control early by scoring on a blocked punt, then held on for a 35-28 home victory over the Wolves in the Class 4A Sunrise Region semifinals.
"It makes a big difference playing from on top," Foothill coach Martin Redmond said. "We can do what we want more defensively and offensively. I thought our kids executed real well when they had to."
Foothill (9-2) plays at Liberty (10-1) in the Sunrise final next Friday.
The Falcons drove inside the Basic 10-yard line on the opening drive before settling for a 29-yard field goal by Vincent Franzeo.
But Foothill truly seized the momentum on the ensuing possession when Joe Wyte blocked a Basic punt. Michael Gamboa scooped up the ball and went 39 yards for a touchdown, putting the Falcons ahead 10-0. They would never trail.
"That was a huge play," Redmond said. "Special teams came up huge and it got the momentum on our side for sure and was the difference in the game."
Gamboa said it was exciting to come up with the loose ball and see no one between him and the end zone.
"Scoring on that was big, getting everyone in the game," he said. "It was great. It was just tunnel vision straight into the end zone. There's no other feeling like that."
Foothill expanded its cushion midway through the third quarter on a 19-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Drew Doxtator to Tyler Morris for a 28-14 lead.
After Gamboa sacked Basic's Eddie Vega on fourth-and-3, the Falcons wasted no time padding its lead. Doxtator's 45-yard TD pass to Morris made it 35-14.
"Up front we were able to get pressure on the quarterback and force incompletions and it was big," Gamboa said.
Basic (6-5) quickly answered as Antraye Johnson scored on a 66-yard run on the first play of the ensuing drive to cut the lead to 35-21 with 2:15 remaining in the third.
Foothill appeared to have the game wrapped up after again stopping Basic on fourth down with 5:02 to play. But the Wolves' defense forced a three-and-out, and Vega hit Devonte Boyd in stride down the right sideline for an 82-yard touchdown pass with 2:50 to play.
Morris was able to recover Basic's onside kick, and Foothill ran all but 9.3 seconds off the clock, downing its punt at the Basic 12.
Vega's desperation pass down the right sideline was incomplete and time expired.
Foothill forced a pair of fumbles, recovering both and turning one into a touchdown.
"Any time you can get a turnover, that's huge," Redmond said. "Our offense is pretty explosive, and if we can get them the ball as much as we can, we're going to put points on the board."
Foothill had lost in the Sunrise semifinals the past two years, and will get a second crack at Liberty, which beat the Falcons 49-41 on the final night of the regular season to earn the Southeast League title.
"The past two years we couldn't get past round two of the playoffs," Gamboa said. "We finally get past round two and we're in the championship and it feels great."
Doxtator completed 15 of 25 passes for 162 yards and three touchdowns. Doxtator also scored on a 6-yard run. Morris was his top target, catching five balls for 90 yards.
Vega passed for 191 yards, and Boyd made eight catches for 162 yards for Basic. Johnson rushed for 97 yards, and added TD runs of 6 and 2 yards to go with his 66-yarder.
Contact prep sports editor Damon Seiters at email@example.com or 702-380-4587.