SOLON — The formula seemed simple and very effective.
Rely on your strength and stop what your opponent does well.
Solon executed that plan to perfection for most of the game and now finds itself with seven straight victories and one away from a return trip to the UNI-Dome.
The sixth-ranked Spartans contained Independence’s rush attack with a stout defense and a balanced offense for a 37-21 victory in the Class 2A football playoff game Friday night at Spartan Stadium. They will No. 4 Waukon the quarterfinals.
“It’s a good feeling to have, being so close last year and being another win from going back to the Dome,” Solon senior Jackson Ryan said. “It feels really nice.”
Solon (7-2) was the Class 3A runner-up last season and has bounced back after a 0-2 start. The Spartans had a team meeting and haven’t lost since the talk.
“We came together and talked that we didn’t want this to be our legacy,” Ryan said. “We decided to bear down and worked harder every day, every play. It worked.”
Solon’s focus was to establish its run game, while putting the clamps on Mustangs versatile running back Marcus Beatty, who averaged 207 rushing yards per game before Friday.
The Spartans succeeded where most teams didn’t, holding him to 83 yards on the ground, including just 25 in the first half.
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“A lot of things contribute to that,” first-year Solon Coach Lucas Stanton said. “Our line play on both sides were really good. That frees up our linebackers to make those plays.
“That was the goal. We know it starts and ends with No. 22 (Beatty). He’s a heck of a player. We wanted them to beat us with someone else.”
On the other side of the field, Solon rushed for 236 yards. Jackson Ryan led the way with 127 yards on 24 carries, scoring on first-half runs of 15 and 5 yards. He capped the opening drive by powering through the middle for a 6-0 lead.
“The big boys up front were working, letting me succeed,” Ryan said. “A lot of it is on them.”
Two plays after his second score, Ryan forced the game’s only turnover. He picked off an underthrown pass that gave Solon a short field. The Spartans attacked immediately and capitalized.
On the first play of the ensuing drive, Blake Timmons hit Colton Hoffman for a 49-yard scoring strike and made it 20-0, which remained through halftime.
“We had the momentum,” Ryan said. “It’s a good time to take a shot.”
Timmons rushed for 64 yards and passed for 172, connecting with Hoffman four times for 122 yards. They teamed up for a 40-yard TD with four minutes left.
The run game opened up the pass and Solon took advantage.
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“Everyone knows we want to run the ball and establish the run,” Stanton said. “Once we were able to do that, they’re a good team and start making adjustments, they started slowing us down on a few things. That’s when we went to some of our other stuff to our other athletes … We were able to loosen them up a little bit.”
The Spartans made a strong statement to start the third quarter that helped them take strong command of the game. They forced a three-and-out to start the second half and then produced an impressive drive, deflating the Mustangs’ chances.
Solon marched 62 yards on 12 plays, grinding away 7:08 off the clock. Timmons finished the drive with a 5-yard TD run, making it 27-0.
“We wanted to get a stop and knew we needed a score on our next possession,” Stanton said. “We overcame a couple penalties on that drive to do that. We knew getting one more score would be a chance to take the wind out of their sails a little bit, so that was big.”
Independence (6-2) continued to battle. Beatty finally was able to break free in the fourth, reeling in a 25-yard TD pass from Mitchell Johnson and then scoring on a 33-yard run with 2:09 left. Johnson also hit Jake Sidles for a 57-yard TD pass late in the third.
“We have a young, tough team,” Independence Coach Justin Putz said. “All year those guys just fought. They’ve gotten better.
“There is no quit in them. They’re game for a fight for all four quarters and I was really proud of them.”
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