This moment was a year in the making for the Independence football team.
Independence has waited for this chance ever since Decorah denied it a chance at a share of a district title and playoff berth at the end of last season.
The Mustangs earned another chance and capitalized this time.
Logan Schmitt rushed for four touchdowns and fifth-ranked Independence clinched the Class 3A District 3 championship with a 28-21 victory over Decorah Friday night at Lyle Leinbaugh Field. Independence captured its first district title and first unbeaten regular season since 1973.
The Mustangs qualified for the postseason for the fourth time with the most recent in 2015.
“It means the world to us,” Schmitt said. “It’s a year’s worth (of work) or even more of that, ever since we were in sixth or seventh grade, looking up to the varsity team. We wanted to be district champs. It was our goal and to go out and accomplish it is surreal. It’s amazing.”
Independence Coach Justin Putz recalled challenging the players to put in the offseason work to get back to this point.
“We talked all week about how we have that shot, so let’s take advantage of it,” Putz said. “It’s huge for the program.”
The crown didn’t come easy. The two teams battled to a 14-14 tie at halftime, alternating touchdowns between quarterbacks — Schmitt and Decorah’s Briggs Duwe.
Duwe’s second score came after a huge momentum swing. Independence’s drive for a two-score lead resulted in an interception on fourth-and-9 from the Vikings 11. Five plays later, Duwe converted a 2-yard QB sneak just 36 seconds before the half.
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Independence answered out of the break, capping the opening possession with an 8-yard run by Schmitt. The answer was crucial for Independence.
“I thought that drive to start the second half was the most important drive of the season,” Putz said. “We had to come back, set the tone and we went 80 yards in (nine) plays, but we knew they’d answer back. Our guys bared down and made plays when they had to.”
Schmitt added an 11-yard TD run for a 28-14 lead with 2:43 left in the third. He has been a key component to the Mustangs success and demonstrated that again Friday. He rushed for 196 yards, adding 84 through the air. Kaleb Lamphier added 145 rushing yards for Independence.
“I’m the beneficiary of what the linemen, backs and wide receivers do,” Schmitt said. “What they do gives me the opportunity to go out and add a little bit to it and that’s how I look at it.”
Decorah still had an opportunity to force another tie late in the fourth. The Vikings drove to the Independence 28 in the final minutes, but a penalty negated a fourth-down conversion and an incomplete pass all but sealed it.
“Our defense has been carrying us this year,” Putz said. “I knew it was a matter of time before they’d make a play. Give Decorah credit for the nice game plan and really attacking, but our guys were there when they needed to be. I couldn’t be happier for them.”
Duwe finished with three TDs and 146 passing yards, including 80 to Logan Halverson. Decorah ended the season 4-5 and 3-2 in 3A 3.
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