CEDAR FALLS– The Solon Spartans bowed out of the state football tournament Thursday night, Nov. 14, after a 14-9 loss to Washington (Iowa) in the Class 3A semifinal.
It was a hard-fought game from the get-go and it lasted the entire four quarters, with lead changes throughout.
The Spartans fought off Washington until the final quarter, when a fake punt and a questionable call breathed new life into the Demons.
Facing fourth down and 18 yards to go at the 5:51 mark of the final quarter, Washington ran punter Mason Quigley down the sideline. He was stopped short of the first down but fumbled forward out of bounds. The officiating crew rewarded the Demons with the ball and a first down, and three plays later, Washington quarterback Daryn Seibelus connected with Tanner Knupp on a short crossing route that ended up 49 yards later as the winning touchdown for the Demons.
Solon had taken the lead on its opening possession, 3-0, but the Demons answered in the second quarter.
Knupp squirmed through a scrum of players and shot through the other side for a 52-yard touchdown, giving Washington a 7-3 lead.
The Spartans mounted successful drives in each of the first three quarters, but could not find the end zone. Kicker Jackson Rushek, however, found the uprights and provided all of the Spartans’ 9 points.
“In many cases we failed to execute once we entered the red zone,” said head coach Kevin Miller. “We had two false start penalties and that really set us back and we simply didn’t make plays when we needed to. We elected to kick the field goals because we felt comfortable and confident with how our defense was playing.”
Rushek’s third field goal gave Solon the 9-7 lead in the third quarter, and they held it into the fourth.
Jacob Black finished with 41 rushing yards and was 6-17 for 61 passing yards.
“We did struggle protecting Jacob, however they did a great job up front of asserting pressure and giving us multiple looks,” Miller said.
Brandon Kramer led the ground game with 61 yards. Jordan Wymer had six rushes for 25 yards. Both Kramer and Wymer were knicked up during the game, as was lineman Lance Evans.
“I have little doubt that injuries affected our offense in a negative way,” Miller said. “We never were able to get into a rhythm offensively and I felt we were somewhat limited as to what we could schematically.”
Nathan Hawkins had two interceptions and a fumble recovery.
Tyler Shaffer blocked a Washington punt which Solon recovered deep in Demon territory.
Connor Wiseman led the team with 15 total tackles, with Nate Kennedy and Logan Linderbaum close behind with 13 each.
“I thought overall we held our own up front, especially the defensive line. I was very proud of our defensive effort. We were solid with the exception of a couple of plays,” Miller noted. “Offensively we just didn’t make plays when the opportunities presented themselves. I felt that we left some scoring opportunities on the field.”
Washington advances to the 3A title game against Bishop Heelan Thursday, Nov. 21. It was only the second loss for Solon, leaving the team with a 11-2 record.
“I’m very proud of this team. Collectively and individually they have come full circle,” Miller commented. “This was a special group of players that consistently demonstrated the highest level of character and integrity. I don’t think many people after our week two loss to Regina would have anticipated this team going to the semifinals.”
After losing to Iowa City Regina, Solon rattled off 10 wins in a row, outscoring its opponents by a combined 432-129, including a 63-point effort against Anamosa.
“I want to take this opportunity to thank the community, parents, staff, student body and administration for the tremendous support this season,” Miller said. “I know our team is very grateful for the outpouring of support that was prevalent from our entire Solon community.”