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Heartache at the UNI-Dome

Spartans upended by Bobcats, 37-17, in 3A title game
Spartans Mathieux Rehnke, A.J. Coons (on crutches), Joseph Stahle and Sullivan Steen reach out, hoisting the Iowa High School Athletic Association State Runner Up trophy with their teammates following a 37-17 loss in the Class 3A state football championship game to the Western Dubuque Epworth Bobcats at the UNI-Dome, in Cedar Falls.

CEDAR FALLS– Some stories end in joyous celebration, others reinforce resolve.
The Spartans, arguably one of the smallest Class 3A school football teams, entered the UNI-Dome on Thursday evening, Nov. 21, sporting a record of 12-0 to meet an equally tested adversary, one of the largest Class 3A teams, in the Western Dubuque Epworth Bobcats. Someone would have to leave without a perfect season.
Although the Spartans battled for 48 minutes, they failed to “Check the Final Box,” as the pole barn proverb south of town beckoned.
The Spartans fell before a very disciplined Bobcat team, 37-17.
“It wasn’t the outcome we aspired to achieve but couldn’t be more proud of our team. I’ll be forever grateful for the special memories we shared together. #EPEP,” Head Coach Kevin Miller tweeted at 11:01 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 21.
The game itself started like many of the games earlier in the season. A steadfast Spartan defense held Western Dubuque to a three-and-out on the opening possession with its pass coverage forcing an incompletion by the Bobcats’ Calvin Harris on a third and eight. A bobbled snap on the punt by Western Dubuque gave the Spartans a short field to work with, from the Bobcats’ 30, and seven plays later, senior quarterback Cam Miller squirted three yards into the end zone for a score, capped by a patented Cael O’Neill extra point, and Solon held a 7-0 lead with a little less than five minutes expired in the first quarter.
On the next Western Dubuque possession, Solon’s defense once again forced the Bobcats into a third down situation. Harris, feeling pressure on a third-and-nine, hit Ben Bryant who pinballed his way out of the hands of three different Spartans for a 10-yard gain. Harris did nearly the same thing, roughly five plays later, with another strike to Bryant for 19 yards, facing a third-and-six, for another first down. Harris passed to Bobcat Jake Hosch for seven yards and a score, and following a Gabe Ulrich PAT, Western Dubuque knotted it, 7-7, with a little over 2:30 remaining in the first.
An incomplete pass to open the second quarter had the Spartans facing a third-and-12, and forced Solon to kick the ball away.
Western Dubuque rumbled 89 yards up the field, converting on three third downs, with Hosch scrambling two yards for a touchdown. Another Ulrich PAT gave the Bobcats a 14-7 lead over the Spartans with 6:07 remaining in the first half. The drive was not without a bit of rumblings from the Spartan faithful in attendance. On a third-and-six conversion by the Bobcats, the ball appeared on the big screen to be fumbled into the end zone but was ruled a first-and-goal from the two-yard line for the Bobcats.
Solon’s next possession was foiled by a holding penalty forced a second-and-13 on its 30 with roughly 5:20 remaining and a false start penalty with a little over 4:20 remaining in the half placed Solon at the 32 facing a third and 15.
Western Dubuque took over from the Spartans and put together a six-play, 50-yard assault, converting on a third-and-12 and scoring on a 16-yard run by Bryant sprinting up the gut on a third-and-10 for a score. However, the Spartan defense foiled a Bobcat two-point-conversion attempt with pursuit, as 1:13 remained in the first half. The Spartans closed out the quarter, advancing the ball with running plays, but the horn sounded before they could capitalize. Solon trailed behind Western Dubuque, 20-7.
Solon started the second half with the ball, appearing primed as they had several times earlier in the season, to rally for the win. The second play from scrimmage in the third quarter, Solon’s Jace Andregg was held up just long enough for the Bobcats to strip the ball and recover the fumble with just 15 ticks gone in the third.
A pass interference call by the Spartans got the ensuing drive by Western Dubuque going but in true Spartan fashion the defense held the Bobcats drive to the seven-yard line and forced the Bobcats’ Ulrich to kick a field goal with 9:23 remaining in the third for 23-7 lead.
The forced field goal appeared to rejuvenate the Spartans but the next series would see big playmaker, and receiving part of the Cam-Coons Connection, A.J. Coons assisted from the field with an apparent leg injury. Coons was lost to the Spartans for the remainder of the game, confined to the trainer’s table and crutches, even visited by brother and Solon alum Jake Coons.
“Actually, it was a non-contact injury, he was planting and his knee buckled as a result,” Coach Miller said of the incident. “Losing A.J was definitely a blow, much of our game plan centered around A.J. and a few other playmakers. Also, I believed it affected our overall team morale. When you lose one of your best players, it definitely has a negative impact on your team’s morale. It appears it’s a significant injury that will require surgery.”
The Spartans pulled together and drove down the field with Andregg picking up a big first-and-10 to the 21-yard line. The Spartans added to their score after being forced to call upon O’Neill to split the uprights, with a 22-yard field goal, to make the score 23-10 with a little over three minutes remaining in the third.
Western Dubuque once again swiped control of the game tempo and capitalized on its next possession, scoring on a 70-yard strike as Harris connected with Will Burds for a Bobcat score. The score, coupled with another Ulrich PAT and Western Dubuque led, 30-10.
Western Dubuque added another score in the third, traversing the field and Bryan punched it in from three yards out on a carry, capped by another Ulrich kick. The Bobcats led, 37-10.
The Spartans held the Bobcats scoreless in the fourth quarter and took a time-out, conserving time, when Western Dubuque was facing a fourth-and-eight on the 38-yard line with 3:01 remaining in the game.
Asked about the discussion in that particular huddle, Coach Miller revealed the players responded as they had all year long, with poise.
“We just spoke about finishing and going out on our terms. Throughout the game, we spoke of adjustments to the plan of attack,” Miller said.
The Spartans scored again on their last possession of the game, ending their season with success as Cam Miller connected with Andregg on a two-yard pass. O’Neill found success with the extra point, attaining the game’s final score, 37-17.
The Bobcats took a knee to run the clock to zero and claimed the Iowa High School Athletic Association Class 3A state championship.
“First off, Western Dubuque is an outstanding football team,” Coach Miller said. “We knew coming in we were going to need to play turnover free and limit big plays. We failed in both of those categories and it was costly. The biggest issue was our inability to get off the field on third down, they converted seven of eight third downs. Lastly, costly penalties were key, as well.”
The Bobcats’ Harris went 12-20 through the air for 203 total yards, including two touchdowns. He carried the ball seven times also claiming 80 of Western Dubuque’s 139 total rushing yards. Bryant rushed 12 times for 39 of the rushing yards and Burds collected 128 of the passing yards with just four receptions.
Cam Miller completed 27 of 35 passing attempts for 170 yards, including the two-yard touchdown to Andregg, and rushed 13 times for 82 yards and a three-yard score.
Miller’s targeted receivers were: Andregg who caught 12 balls for 64 total yards; Coons reeled in six passes for 39 yards before being injured; Cole Arduser snatched three for 40 yards; Seamus Poynton grabbed four for 20 yards; Lucas TePoel pulled in one for six yards; and Jackson Ryan had one catch for a yard.
Seamus Poynton carried the ball five times for 16 yards and Andregg was responsible for handling the ball four times for three yards.
Jax Flynn corralled seven solo tackles and two assists leading the team in defensive performance. Carson Shive recorded five solo tackles and three tackle assists, Coons grabbed four solo tackles, Tyler Locke and TePoel were responsible for three solo tackles apiece, Andregg and Ryan recorded two solos and a tackle assist each, Colton Hoffman had one solo and an assist, while Poynton and True Eidahl had a solo apiece. Michael Broghammer assisted on four tackles, Thomas Brandt assisted on two, and Hayes Diersen, Bo Janssen and Sully Steen each assisted on one.
O’Neill kicked the 22-yard field goal, kicked off four times for 168 total yards, and two point-after attempts.
Poynton returned one punt for a yard and two kick offs for 39 total yards. Andregg returned three kick offs for 68 total yards and Coons returned one for 22 yards. Trey Stebral punted once for 47 yards.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the accomplishments of this 2019 team,” Coach Miller expressed. “They continued to steadily improve through the course of the season. I (attribute) their success to surrendering to the process and believing in one another. This team continued to improve on a weekly basis and were able to experience many memorable moments together. Just because we didn’t win a title doesn’t mean we didn’t have a successful season.”
He qualified, “I measure success on how much improvement a team makes from start to finish, and this team improved significantly over the course of the year. I speak for our entire staff when I say this was an enjoyable and rewarding team to coach, they embraced our vision and submitted to the process.”
This season was challenging on a personal level juggling the monikers of both father and head coach.
“Obviously it was extremely emotional for Cam and I,” Coach Miller elaborated. “Cam has been involved with this program since he was born and he took the loss very hard knowing he will never play football again for Solon High School. For me it was also emotional, however, I feel fortunate we were able to share this memorable experience together.”
Coach Miller is hopeful of the future, as well. The program is resourceful and has consistently put together successful teams.
“We have a great collection of talent returning and the future is very bright,” he said speaking toward next season. “My hope is the underclassmen will follow the positive example of our seniors and recreate another magical season.”
Coach Miller added, “I want to thank the parents, staff, administration and community for their tremendous support throughout the season. Solon is a remarkable community and I feel very blessed to carry on the rich tradition of Solon football.”