Back to the dome!
DECORAH– This year, they would not be turned away.
The Solon Spartans upended the No. 2 team in Class 3A Friday night on the road, earning a spot in the state semifinals at the UNI-Dome this Thursday against Washington.
A year ago, the road ended in Decorah with a 35-10 loss.
This year, Solon took the lead and nursed a two-score margin into the fourth quarter, fending off a late rally to defeat the Decorah Vikings, 28-20.
The win advances the Spartans to the state 3A semifinals to be held Thursday, Nov. 14, at 8:21 p.m., at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls against the Washington Demons. Both teams enter the contest with 11 wins against a single loss.
To reach that point, however, Solon had to get past both West Delaware and undefeated Decorah in the second round and the quarterfinals.
The Spartans dominated 9-1 West Delaware in a 49-20 victory Monday, Nov. 4, and then lay in wait for the defending state champions.
The win Friday night was not as crushing as the one delivered earlier in the week to West Delaware, but Solon controlled the game for a solid three quarters, executed well in all three phases and won the turnover battle, including an interception by Jacob Black in the closing minutes which killed a potentially-game tying drive by the Vikings.
Black put together another well-rounded performance, with 115 yards on the ground and 130 through the air. He scored twice on the ground and twice through the air to lead the team.
“Early in the game, Jordan Wymer went down with an injury and was unable to return,” noted head coach Kevin Miller. “We had to revamp our offensive game plan early in the second quarter. We really focused on our read option as our main offensive threat.”
An early turnover helped give Solon momentum.
Solon’s Danny Whitmore recovered a fumble by Decorah quarterback Bryce Pierce, thwarting a drive that had reached deep into Solon territory. The Spartan offense rumbled downfield, with Nathan Hawkins collecting a 12-yard touchdown pass from Black to give Solon a 7-0 lead.
“I believe the offensive and defensive lines were key to the outcome of the game,” Miller said. “In my mind, we controlled the line of scrimmage which allowed us to effectively rush the football and contain Decorah’s fierce ground game.”
The Vikings were averaging over 200 yards on the ground, but lost leading rusher Holt Johansen early in the playoffs.
Second-leading rusher Mikhail Suvorov was limited to six carries against the Spartans, who held the Vikings to only 93 yards Friday night.
Decorah scored in the second quarter to come within a point, but the extra point failed and Solon hung on to a one-point margin.
On their next possession, the Spartans put together another successful drive, culminating with a 4-yard touchdown by Black, and Solon took a 14-6 lead into halftime.
Black hooked up with Hawkins again in the third quarter with a 65-yard touchdown which gave Solon a 21-6 lead heading into the final frame, but there was a wild finish awaiting both teams.
Pierce threw for over 200 of his 279 passing yards in the fourth quarter, connecting with Kyle Kane on a 12-yard touchdown to bring the lead back to single digits, 21-13.
Solon responded with another long drive covering most of the field, and with less than four minutes remaining, the Spartans were up 28-13.
But Decorah’s quarterback was not finished. Pierce connected with Kane again less than a minute later for a 62-yard bomb, and after forcing Solon to punt, the Vikings were poised for a final score.
That’s when Black stepped in with 20 seconds remaining to intercept Pierce and put the game away.
“I’m very proud of this team,” Miller said. “They have worked and prepared tirelessly for this opportunity. I hope they enjoy and savor the moment while playing in the UNI-Dome.”
Solon finished the game with 364 total yards of offense, including 234 yards rushing. Complementing Black were Brandon Kramer with 85 yards and Wymer with 34 yards.
Hawkins had 96 yards receiving. He and Tyler Shaffer (34 yards) were the only two Spartans to catch a pass.
Connor Wiseman led the defense with 12 tackles; Kramer had 10, Logan Linderbaum had eight and Seth Phillips had seven. Dalton Ferguson had the team’s only sack.
Washington comes into the semifinal with a lone loss to Pella. The Demons and the Spartans share two common opponents this year, having both beaten Mount Pleasant and Marion.
“We will prepare in the same manner as we have in the past,” Miller said. “We will attempt to simulate the heat by practicing indoors a time or two.”