116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MANCHESTER — The Solon Spartans looked dead in the water, unable to get their running game going, sitting at the West Delaware 13 down 10 points with the clock winding down.
But a quick burst of offense and a herculean play from a seldom-used special teams player has Solon heading back to the UNI-Dome.
The Spartans completed an improbable comeback in frantic fashion, slipping by West Delaware, 23-19, in a Class 3A quarterfinal football game Friday night.
“There’s nothing like it,” Solon quarterback Blake Timmons said. “People say that playing on Friday nights is special, but going to the Dome is even better.”
“It’s disappointing,” West Delaware head coach Doug Winkowitsch said. “We’ve been through a lot of adversity all year and tonight we got a little more. We lost our big tackle. We lost our quarterback. I’m disappointed for our guys. This is a good football team. It’s unfortunate that either of these teams had to lose.”
Down 19-9, Solon (11-0) spent most of the night struggling to push the right buttons on offense. From their own 13, Timmons dropped back to pass, scanned the field and took off. Weaving up and down the field, Timmons was finally dropped at the Hawks 30 after ripping off a 57-yard gain. On the next snap, Timmons found Sean Stahle all alone on a screen pass. Stahle found the end zone untouched as Solon closed the gap to 19-16 with 4:58 to play.
West Delaware (9-2) dealt with star quarterback Kyle Cole missing the second half with an injury. Backup Conner Funk picked up a first down with his legs on third-and-8, taking precious seconds off the clock. As the clock ticked down to two minutes remaining, the Spartans forced a punt.
Funk rolled right in an attempt to get the punt off, but Zeb Kleinsmith blocked the kick. As it rolled backward, Kleinsmith found it, scooped it up and made it 11 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.
“All year I’ve been looking forward to special teams,” Kleinsmith said. “My opportunities on offense and defense haven’t been the best because of our great senior class. I just wanted to make my mark on special teams.”
With 1:51 left and a timeout to play with, Funk completed a series of short passes to get the Hawks in range. That final timeout was used after picking up a fourth-and-1 on the ground, setting up West Delaware at the Solon 27 with 5.9 seconds left. Funk’s pass to the end zone was batted away and the Spartans raced onto the field.
The Spartans’ first-half defense deserves much of the credit. The Hawks jumped out to an early 12-0 lead. On the ensuing possession, Timmons threw deep. Logan Sieverding made a sprawling attempt at a spectacular grab, but when his body landed, the ball caromed into the hands of Cole for an interception.
Just when it looked like it wasn’t going to be the Spartans’ night, the defense adjusted and began to snuff out the run. The offense did enough to trim the lead to 12-9 at the half.
But the play that was largely responsible for sending Solon back to the semifinals belonged to Kleinsmith.
“I told myself every night this week that I was going to make a play that wouldn’t be forgotten,” Kleinsmith said.
The Spartans advance to the Class 3A semifinals next Saturday.