GRINNELL– The game was still up in the air as the fourth quarter began.
Junior Tim Lance had recovered two Grinnell fumbles and returned them both for touchdowns in the first quarter, but Solon was hanging onto a 21-14 lead as the third quarter expired.
Spartans on both sides of the ball showed up big in the final frame, however, with a field goal, a touchdown and an interception to ice a win in Grinnell Friday night, 31-14.
Both Grinnell and Solon entered the game with a single non-conference loss, and the road win gave the Spartans outright ownership of the District 6 title in Class 3A.
And while Solon took control in the fourth quarter, host Grinnell pulled out all the stops in an attempt to thwart the visiting Spartans, including a fake punt, a halfback pass and a flea flicker.
Grinnell started out with a little momentum courtesy of a punt return that gave them great field position, but the Solon defense held firm and forced Grinnell’s Nathan Criswell into a 40-yard field goal attempt.
Solon’s next drive went all the way to the Grinnell 20 on a mix of pass and run before the Spartans turned it over on downs.
The defense forced a three-and-out, and on fourth down, Criswell bobbled a high snap and Tim Lance picked it up and ran the ball into the end zone for Solon’s first score. The point after failed, but the Spartans were on the board with a 6-3 lead.
On Grinnell’s next drive, something incredibly similar happened.
Lance was in the backfield as Grinnell bobbled the exchange on a reverse, and the ball was in the hands of Solon’s number 42 and in the end zone before anyone had a chance to react.
The Spartans cashed in on a two-point conversion and had a 14-3 lead without scoring an offensive touchdown.
The Tigers responded, this time with a 47-yard field goal, to close the gap to a single score (a theme throughout the night), but Solon started the second quarter by feeding the Tigers a steady diet of Cody Fritz. Fritz broke a long run into Grinnell territory, then picked his way through the interior defense on subsequent plays for a third Solon touchdown.
As time wound down in the second quarter, Grinnell mounted one of its only successful drives of the night, starting at its own 10 and moving across the field, most of it on a 47-yard bomb that moved the Tigers to the Solon 37. Moments later, halfback Jordan Ely sold a sweep to the Spartan defense before chucking a 32-yard touchdown to a well-defended Joe Nowasell.
The Solon lead was trimmed to 21-14, where it remained until the fourth quarter.
The Spartans closed out the third in the middle of another drive, moving from their own 10 to the Tiger 27, thanks in part to a beautiful catch by Rory Siddell, who jumped between Grinnell defenders to haul in a J. J. Hanus pass.
Solon moved all the way to the Tiger 15 before settling for a 37-yard Josh Proehl field goal.
More importantly, the lead had been extended to 10 points and a good portion of the fourth-quarter clock had been utilized.
With nine minutes remaining, Grinnell mounted a drive, converting a fourth down with a fake punt. But on the next play, a flea flicker, Solon’s Andy Klouda picked off Grinnell’s Eli Dunne at the Solon 22, and the offense took advantage.
Hanus and Fritz both rolled to big gains, and Hanus put the final score on the board with a 16-yard keeper.
The Spartans put together nearly 400 yards of offense for the game while holding the Tigers to 204, 78 on the ground.
Fritz broke 100 yards again, rushing 28 times for 138 yards; Hanus had 89 yards on 13 carries.
Hanus was an efficient 11-18 passing for 143 yards, with at least two catches for each of his four receivers– Colton Dall, Austin Dall, Siddell and Klouda.
Lance led the defense with 10 total tackles and two touchdowns on his fumble recoveries. Kyle Kroymann also recovered a fumble.
Solon begins the postseason yet this week, hosting a first round game Wednesday, Oct. 26, against Center Point-Urbana (4-5). A second round game is scheduled for Monday, Oct. 31, at a site yet to be determined.