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Solon escapes Liberty, 14-7

Spartans advance to host Pella Friday
Solon’s Seamus Poynton boogies around the Bolts in the rain during the Spartans' 14-7 football victory over the Liberty High Lightning Friday, Nov. 1 at Spartan Stadium.

SOLON– The week’s pole barn proverb read, “No chance for Lightning,” on Friday, Nov. 1.
Although cold winds blew and rain fell for most of the game at Spartan Stadium, the dour weather was not enough to turn away a large crowd eager to see the Spartans’ 14-7 triumph over the Liberty Lightning in their first Class 3A playoff appearance.
The weather may have affected the outcome, as periodicals promised an epic battle between the pass-laden offense of the Spartans and the run-oriented offense of the Bolts, as the Lightning are oft referred. The confrontation never found fruition, as it was 48 minutes of clock-gobbling rushing by both teams
“Coming in to the game we were extremely concerned with their power running game,” Head Coach Kevin Miller said. “Our entire defense for the better part of four quarters was stout. We gave up a few big plays but kept a potent offense at bay.”
Scoring in the matchup was limited to the first half.
The Lightning elected to receive in the first half, winning the coin toss, and, stifled by the Solon defense, was held to a three-and-out.
The Spartans set to work, following the punt, at their own 38-yardline and drove 62 yards culminating in quarterback Cam Miller sneaking into the end zone from one yard out. Cael O’Neill split the uprights for an extra point. The Spartans’ offense converted during the drive on an early fourth-and-one at the 17-yard line, also on a carry by Miller.
The Bolts’ second offensive possession ended the same as the first, with a rapid three-and-out, as the Spartans’ defensive phalanx held. The Spartans started on their own 27 with their next possession and marched 73 yards in eight plays, capped by a Jace Andregg 5-yard touchdown jaunt and another O’Neill point-after, just 18 seconds into the second quarter. The Spartans converted again during the drive, on a fourth-and-14 on the 21-yard line, as Miller exploited the Cam-Coons Connection, hitting A.J. Coons on the 5-yard line to convert, setting up the score. The Spartans led, 14-0.
The Lightning were unable to capitalize on the following drive, although Trey Stebral saved the Spartans by holding a Liberty rush to just 16 yards on a breakaway carry by the Lightning’s Max Tafolla, limiting it to a simple first down. Three more plays and Liberty kicked it to the Spartans once again, however a miscue receiving the kick had Lucas TePoel desperately downing the ball for the Spartans at the 1-yard line.
The Spartans worked their way out to the 30-yard line via short gains by Miller scrambling, an 11-yard pick up by Jackson Ryan, and a 7-yard hook-up to the left of the Cam-Coons Connection. A false start on the first play at the 30 pushed the Spartans back to face a first-and-15 that Miller, on a quarterback keeper, quickly wiped with a 15-yard carry to the 40. The Spartans were dealt a loss of two when Seamus Poynton was dropped by Liberty’s Jacob Adam and, on the next play the ball ended up on the turf and the Bolts recovered it. A flag on the play had the Spartan faithful catching their breath, but the holding penalty against the Spartans was declined, and the Lightning had a first-and-10 at the 45-yard line.
Liberty made a first down on the next succession of plays but smart play by Jax Flynn and Stebral on defense, followed by a snap infraction penalty, put the ball back in the Spartans’ hands. A couple big gains for the Spartans drove them into Liberty territory, but the Bolts’ Greg Mitchell gave the Lightning hope with an interception and a first-and-10 on their own seven-yard line.
Liberty’s Kaleb Williams broke free of coverage and gave the Lightning a first-and-10 on the Spartans’ 47 with 20.1 remaining before the half. A pass interference call gave Liberty 15 yards and a first-and-10 on the 32. Woody connected for the Lightning with Kelby Telander for a score and Ryan Nugent made good with the extra point. The Bolts drove 93 yards in six plays, including the penalty assist, in just 1:40, cutting the Solon lead to 14-7. Andregg received the ensuing kick for Solon and rushed for 18 yards before being brought down to end the half.
The players’ breath was heavy in the air as they were pelted with cold rain well into the second half and the hits could be heard in the stands, carried on the frigid, damp air, through the end of the game as the remainder was a menagerie of defensive execution and offensive frustration by two preeminent teams.
Although Solon kept the Lightning to one first down in its first two possessions of the second half, the Bolts had a chance to pull even in the fourth quarter, pounding its way into Solon territory with under four minutes to play. Liberty converted a third-and-two and a fourth-and-eight with pass completions and faced a fourth-and-two from the Solon 12. The Bolts chose to go to 205-pound tailback Max Tafolla, but Solon’s defense swarmed as he took a pitch to the right. Spartan Jax Flynn hit him immediately, Tafolla managed to keep his balance for a moment, but was enveloped by Solon’s pursuit in the backfield for a loss.
Solon got possession of the ball with a little more than three minutes remaining, up 14-7.
Miller had five of a career-high 27 carries on the final drive: four yards on the first play of the possession, then he took a 33-yard jaunt to the Lightning’s 49-yard line, three yards straight up the gut, he was stopped for a loss of one, and gained six yards, on a fourth-and-four play with 12 seconds left, to secure the win. Solon dispatched the Lightning, 14-7, in the Lightning’s first playoff appearance in Class 3A competition.
“Hats off to Solon, we hope the best for them they played a great game tonight we just didn’t make the plays we had to,” Liberty High Head Coach Jeff Gordon said. “That’s really on coaching not on the effort from our kids, they played hard and I’m proud of them.”
Solon held Liberty High to a season-low 145 rushing yards on 30 carries. Prior to the game, Liberty High was third in Class 3A in rushing at 273 yards per game.
Liberty ended its breakthrough season, its first in Class 3A, at 7-3.
“It’s not the way that we wanted it to go but it kind of epitomizes what this first group is,” Coach Gordon summarized. “The odds were stacked against them and they just fought and believed. Their legacy will last a long time.”
Coach Miller was happy to shake the first-round hiccups experienced the last few years.
“To get that first win was huge for us!” he exclaimed, “It doesn't matter how you win, as long as you advance. We recognize we'll have to play better on offense if we hope to advance. We are capable of making big plays but just couldn't manufacture one Friday. We have a great opportunity ahead of us and the players are very excited to compete in the quarterfinals.”
Prior to the first round of the playoffs, Solon was ranked eighth in Class 3A averaging 205 yards a game through the air.
On a not-so-passer-friendly-evening, Quarterback Cam Miller was 12-15 passing for 97 yards and was intercepted once and led the team rushing with a career high 27 carries for 143 yards including a 1-yard touchdown carry.
Andregg and Coons led the receiving corps with four catches for 24 yards and three catches for 32 yards, respectively. Seamus Poynton pulled down two catches for 18 yards and receivers Cole Arduser, Joe Stahle and TePoel reeled in a catch apiece for nine, eight and six yards, respectively.
Poynton also carried the ball six times for 19 rushing yards total, Andregg handled the ball four times for 25 yards including the five-yard score, Ryan scrambled with the ball three times for 29 yards, and TePoel and Colton Hoffman carried the ball once for 19 and eight yards, respectively.
Coach Miller was critical but pleased with the offensive performance with his future-focused comments.
“Offensively we moved the ball but failed to sustain drives due to costly penalties and turnovers,” he commented. “Fortunately, we were able to score on our first two possessions which was key to the outcome of the game. We need to clean up some things on offense but as a whole we rushed the football with a great deal of effectiveness.”
Carson Shive and Lucas TePoel led Solon’ defensive performance. Shive drug down four solo tackles and assisted on nine and TePoel wrestled four solo tackles and five assists. Flynn had two solos and three assists, Ryan bulldogged two solo tackles and assisted on two and Sully Steen collected two solo tackles. Tyler Locke boasted a solo tackle and three assists, Poynton had a solo tackle and two assists, Coons had one tackle and one assist, and Stebral and Luke Haganman wrestled down a solo tackle apiece. Andregg and Micahel Broghammer both recorded four tackle assists. Nolan Pattison had three tackle assists.
O’Neill was a perfect 2-2 on point-after attempts and kicked off three times tallying 125 yards for the Spartans. Stebral punted three times for 104 yards with the longest traveling 38.
Coons and Andregg each had a kickoff return for 29 and 14 yards, respectively.
TePoel returned two punts for a total of 14 yards and Andregg returned two for nine total yards.
Coach Miller was pleased with the Spartans’ defensive performance.
“Overall we were simply outstanding on defense,” he noted. “Aside from the last drive of the first half, we kept their powerful running game in check.”
Coach Miller was quick to assure penalties and turnovers need to be curbed to continue into the quarterfinals.
“Turnovers and penalties were certainly an issue,” he said. “Moving forward we certainly need to clean things up if we hope to advance.”
Solon (10-0) hosts Pella (8-2), at Spartan Stadium, on Friday, Nov. 8, at 7 p.m. in win-or-go-home play with a spot in the Class 3A semifinals at the UNI-Dome, in Cedar Falls, on the line.
“Pella is a very good team that will be a tremendous test for our football team,” Coach Miller said. “They are well coached and don't hurt themselves with penalties and turnovers. We must play physical and disciplined if we hope to be successful. Offensively they are extremely balanced and don't turn the ball over. Defensively, they are extremely aggressive and physical, we will have our work cut out for us.”
The Pella Dutch boast wins over Dallas Center-Grimes (14-0), Mount Pleasant (55-20), Knoxville (24-0), South Tama (63-12), Oskaloosa (35-3), Newton (42-14), Grinnell (28-14), and a 24-6 triumph over Independence on Friday, Nov. 1, to challenge the Spartans. The Dutch’s two losses came courtesy of Norwalk (27-9) and Carlisle (42-36).
In Pella’s win over Independence, their junior quarterback Ryan Mace was 5-14 passing for 67 yards and had one interception in the game with his primary target being senior Logan Shetterly whom he hit twice for 47 yards. The Dutch rushed 43 times for a total of 210 yards, scoring three times, with 142 of those yards courtesy of 20 carries, and two of the scores, by junior Aaron Downs, the longest carry was a 39-yard touchdown.
Coach Miller said preparation would be business as usual.
“We continue to stress the importance of fundamental development and overall execution,” he said. “The key is to spend more time viewing film and stressing the importance of executing the game plan.”