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CEDAR FALLS — An entire game doesn’t hinge on one series or one specific play.
Specific sequences, however, can have a major impact on the direction of said outcome.
Take the opening series for both Cedar Rapids Xavier and Solon. The Saints turned the Spartans away deep in Xavier territory on the game’s first series and followed it with an 80-yard touchdown drive.
Just about everything else went in the Saints’ favor. The score was the first of five first-half touchdowns as top-ranked Xavier turned an anticipated defensive battle into a lopsided 35-7 victory over No. 3 Solon in a Class 3A state football semifinal Thursday night at the UNI-Dome.
Xavier (12-0) will play in the championship game for the first time since consecutive 4A finals appearances in 2012-13. The victory sets up a rematch with Pella (11-1) next Thursday here at 7 p.m. The Dutch eliminated Xavier, 34-30, in the 2016 semifinals.
After the initial stop, the Saints marched down the field, capping the seven-play drive with the first of three first-half Quinn Schulte touchdown runs. This one from five yards.
“The big thing was that first defensive stop, because those guys are so explosive,” Xavier Coach Duane Schulte said. “I think that helped our kids that they could play with these guys.”
The spark ignited the Saints, who scored every time they received the ball before the break.
“All three teams try to feed off each other,” Quinn Schulte said. “We just try to use that energy.”
Solon didn’t seem to recover after two straight incompletions stalled the first possession. The Spartans put themselves in the position they had hoped, but didn’t take advantage, which hurt.
“Big,” Solon Coach Kevin Miller said of the early turn of events. “That was a momentum killer for us. It really was.
“We didn’t capitalize. It’s unfortunate. We knew if we could get them down that our defense would be in good position.”
Instead, it was Xavier’s defense that took control, forcing three first-half turnovers that all led to scores.
Linebacker Beau Van Berkum picked off a Cam Miller pass on Solon’s second possession. The Saints followed with a Braden Stovie 7-yard touchdown run that was set up by his 44-yard catch and run on a screen pass from Quinn Schulte.
Solon squandered another extended drive, reaching the Xavier 5, trying to cut into a growing deficit. The Spartans fumbled on 1st-and-goal from the 5 that Jacob Hines pounced on, setting up a 10-play, 94-yard drive capped by Quinn Schulte’s 16-yard TD run for a 28-0 edge.
Hines said the Saints' success was a matter of all 11 defenders sticking to their assignments.
“Once again, it was just guys doing their job,” Hines said. “That ball just fell right there for me. All I had to do was fall on it. I think Drew Ties popped it loose and made a great play.”
The younger Schulte contributed on defense, leaping up to snatch an interception on a tipped ball that looked like it was going to be a first-down conversion near midfield. He capped the ensuing drive with a 2-yard run on fourth down to make it 35-0 with 1:53 left in the first half.
“We just try to take what the defense is giving and try to go where they’re not,” Quinn Schulte said. “It just turned out that sometimes they weren’t in other spots. Our (offensive) line did a good job getting a good surge.”
Special teams played a big role for Xavier. Less than a week after returning two punts for TDs against Davenport Assumption, Stovie reached the end zone again with an escort from the return unit.
The play appeared dicey when Stovie misplayed a punt on his own 45. He reacted by snagging it off the bounce. He ran into traffic, cut to his right and found his original wall of blockers, rumbling 55 yards for a touchdown and 21-0 lead.
“Almost every day in practice I’ve been told to catch it or let it go,” Stovie said with a laugh. “I’ve dropped two the past few games, so I’m just going to try and get better at that and try to catch them.
“I kind of saw (the wall). The guys did a really good job blocking and opened it up for me.”
Schulte finished with 118 rushing yards, including 109 in the first half, and 142 passing yards. Stovie added 168 total yards, including 88 on the ground.
Coach Schulte said the Saints didn’t make any drastic changes, but made some tweaks. The success was due to a good performance.
“We’ve had that stuff in all year,” Duane Schulte said. “I don’t know if we called it the way we did tonight. The kids executed.”
Xavier went five straight quarters without giving up a TD over the last two weeks, but that streak was halted in the fourth. The Saints limited Solon to about 224 total yards on just 40 plays.
“We just tried to match their physicality,” Hines said. “(Solon) is a great team. That’s all I can say.”
Miller hit Kendrick Harris for a 25-yard TD pass, capping an eight-play, 83-yard drive to make it 35-7 with 7:30 left in the game. Miller finished with 121 passing yards. Harris had 88 rushing yards and 43 receiving.
Solon (11-1) has lost its last two state semifinal games, falling to Washington (Iowa) in 2013.
“I’m proud of this senior group,” Miller said. “They’ve done things the right way. They’ve bought into the system and the process that we have here at Solon. They reap the benefits of their hard work.
“It’s unfortunate for them to go out the way they did. We didn’t play our best.”
Pella has eliminated the Saints from title contention their last two trips to the UNI-Dome. The Dutch handled Xavier in the 2014 semifinals.
“We know Pella is a great team,” Hines said. “We remember what happened last year for sure. We’re going to prepare for them as best as we can and looking forward to it.”
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