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Spartans exit playoffs, 28-14

Last season’s 3A champ steals Solon’s playoff football hopes
Coach Kevin Miller has quarterback Blayze Griffis’ ear prior to the beginning of the second half of play on Friday, Nov. 4, at Spartan Stadium during Solon’s quarterfinal loss to the Pella Dutch, 28-14.

SOLON– The Pella Dutch stole the Solon Spartans’ football playoff hopes on Friday, Nov. 4, at Spartan Stadium with a 28-14 defeat. It was the last game for many members of the Spartan varsity team and they finished the season doing what they do, playing with heart, conviction and fortitude.
The Dutch advanced to compete at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls against Cedar Rapids Xavier on Thursday, Nov. 10.
Although it started out as a one-sided affair, the Spartans displayed the tenacity during the second half of the game which made them worthy of their place facing the highly-ranked Dutch. As was the case during the entire season, the Spartans’ play in the fourth quarter epitomized how they set out to, “Do what we do.”
The Spartan defense forced the Dutch to rely heavily on their passing game. The defense held Pella to just 43 total rushing yards, with only one 1-yard rushing touchdown permitted by the stingy Spartan line. It was the first time the Dutch had been limited to so few yards rushing in the last two years.
Pella senior Nick Finney compensated during the game connecting on 21-28 passing attempts for 300 yards and three touchdowns. He hit seniors Donovan Holterhaus and Ryan Van Wyk eight times each for 60 and 155 yards, respectively; junior Avery Van Zee three times for 44 yards; and seniors Tyson Wassenaar and Jordan Weppler one time each for 32 and 9 yards, respectively. Van Wyk was the recipient of two touchdown passes and Wassenaar pulled in one touchdown. Wassenar also scored on a two-point conversion.
The first quarter saw neither team able to find scoring success. The Spartans did not allow the Dutch to find the end zone, while the Dutch did not allow the Spartans an offensive first down.
A blanket of haze settled over Spartan Stadium at the start of the second quarter, like the funk that fell on the Spartans’ offensive production.
Pella’s Finney drew first blood in the second quarter on a 23-yard, fourth-down-completion to Ryan Van Wyk for a score, but an aggressive Solon defense blocked the point-after kick. Van Wyk snatched a second touchdown catch from Finney, a 59-yard strike, with a little over 20 ticks remaining in the quarter. The second catch coupled with the ensuing 2-point conversion gave Pella a 14-0 lead at the half.
The Spartans funneled into the locker room with only 10 yards total offensively, including minus-18 yards rushing, in the first half.
“Honestly, we focused on a few adjustments that needed to be made. Also, that we wanted to win the half by focusing by giving maximum effort on every play,” Coach Kevin Miller said of his halftime talk. “We played a pretty solid first half, we gave up a couple big plays and poor field position affected our inability to get anything going on offense.”
Solon returned to the field at a sprint to the cheers of the crowd, led by the student section who remained in force.
Coach Miller returned to the sidelines and spoke directly to Solon quarterback Blayze Griffis, who was warming up on the sideline.
“We spoke about some of the adjustments that were made at halftime. Also, I wanted to reassure Blayze that (we) were in a very good position to win the football game if we continued to believe in the plan and one another,” Coach Miller said.
The Spartans returned to the field with some changes. Switching to a hurry-up offense offered some success, but not before the Dutch would score twice.
With a little more than 7:30 remaining in the third quarter, Finney connected with Wassenaar on 32-yard pass, capped by a Kaden Miedema kick, and Finney ran in on a 1-yard play in the red zone, also capped by a Miedema kick, with just over 6:30 remaining in the third.
Backs firmly against the wall, the Spartans set to work. Solon scored with just under 1:30 remaining in the third quarter on a 11-yard strike from Griffis to Payton Bandy and Anthony Bullard split the uprights for the point-after.
On the ensuing possession by the Dutch, Bo Black intercepted a pass and the Spartans set to work on a comeback. The possession culminated in a 18-yard reception by Bandy, again, to make the score 28-14 following a Bullard PAT with 7:57 glowing on the clock.
From the depths of Solon’s playbook, the Spartans gathered together as if in huddle before the kick when Bullard spun out and onside-kicked the ball with the Spartans swarming into the unprepared Dutch line. It was not meant to be, and Pella stuck to a ground game, running precious time off the clock.
On Solon’s next drive down the field, with less than four minutes remaining, the black and orange warriors got to the 25-yard line and looked primed to score. Griffis, needing to make something happen, drew back and Jacob Coons tried to split two 6-5 defenders. The pass was intercepted, squashing the Spartans’ playoff hopes.
The Dutch soaked the remaining minutes from the clock for the 28-14 final score.
It was the third consecutive year the Spartans exited the playoffs in the second round.
Griffis was 18-31 for 193 yards (only 28 of which came during the first half) passing for two touchdowns and three interceptions. He hit seniors Coons and Kendrick Harris five times for 49 and 42-yards respectively, seniors Graeson Dall and Grant Goldsberry three times each for 38 and 35 yards, and junior Payton Bandy twice for 29 yards and two touchdowns.
Uncharacteristic of a Solon offense, the Spartans were held by the staunch Pella defense to just 28 total yards rushing. Graeson Dall rushed only once for minus-2 yards, Griffis rushed eight times and for minus-eight yards, Harris rushed 12 times for 23 yards, and Trevor Nelson rushed once for 16 yards.
Spencer Wegmann had three solo tackles and five tackle assists with a tackle for loss, Grant Goldsberry wrapped up four solo tackles and two tackle assists, Austin Kennedy and Tyler Linderbaum had three solo tackles and four tackle assists apiece, Dall had two solo and four tackle assists, Bo Black and Trevor McGill gathered three solo tackles apiece, Jackson Walker had two solo and two tackle assists, Justin Gibbs had two tackles and a tackle assist, Anthony Bullard and Zach Wegmann collected a tackle and an assist each, Coons had one solo sack for a loss, Matt Folkerts had two tackle assists and Bryce West was involved in a tackle assist.
Black returned his interception 20 yards.
Bullard handled the kicking duties. He was 2-2 on point-after attempts, kicked off three times for 116 yards total, and punted four times for 136 yards, the longest 46 yards.
Dall and Nelson handled kickoff returns; Dall with four for 79 total yards and Nelson with one return for 25 yards. Dall fielded one punt return for no gain.
“I thanked the seniors for all of the sacrifices that they’ve made over the course of the year,” Coach Miller said of his postgame speech. “We ask a lot of our players and I wanted to thank them and recognize their accomplishments this season. The message to the underclassmen was simple; we need to get back to work and improve throughout the course of the off-season.”
Miller said he and his staff were pleased with how consistently the team performed throughout the year.
“We came up short of our goal, but the players improved over the course of the season and that’s extremely rewarding for our entire staff. Obviously winning a district title was a great accomplishment and the daily improvement was noticeable for every staff member,” Miller said. “I really don’t have any regrets, the players, staff and support staff gave everything they had daily to ensure the success of the entire organization.”
Miller said his staff would take some time to decompress.
“Football requires a lot of time from a preparation standpoint,” he said. “Coaches spend a lot of time away from their families to serve the program and its players, they really need time to recharge their batteries. I feel blessed and very fortunate to have such hard-working, character-minded staff members. I personally want to spend time with family and complete projects that I’ve neglected for the past three months and possibly get in my (tree) stand. We will reconvene in a few months to discuss various leadership initiatives that we want to employ for the upcoming season.”
He said he feels good about the future of the program.
“Our sophomore and freshmen teams went undefeated and really made significant strides throughout the course of the year,” Miller said. 
As the stadium lights illuminated the emptying field on Friday, Nov. 4, the voice of Don Ellis reverberated through the stands, updating departing fans of scores from around Class 3A while the black- and orange-clad players and coaches retreated to the locker room. With his teammates, Coons, head hung low, carried the trophy presented at the conclusion of the game, haphazardly tucked under his arm. Coaches offered players a shoulder of support and teammates embraced one another. Quietly.
The Pella Dutch fans cheered their departing victors.
Nelson took the last walk slowly toward the locker room, his father stopping him briefly and embracing him, speaking quietly into his helmet.
As his father departed, Nelson turned to rejoin his teammates then stopped, casting a last look over a shoulder at the empty field. He turned and departed, following the rest of the team, slowly, to the locker room.
It was the last time seniors Coons, Peyton Stahle, Dall, Bullard, Bryce West, Goldsberry, Griffis, Austin Kennedy, Trevor McGill, Black, Nelson, Zach Cusick, Gibbs, Nick Troyer, Walker and Nick Hofsommer would walk out of Spartan Stadium suited up for doing battle.
On Saturday, Nov. 5, Coach Kevin Miller tweeted, “So proud of our team and how they competed vs Pella. Displayed such fight & resiliency. Special group of seniors and I’ll miss them.”