CEDAR FALLS — A defensive lineman, Dustin Willie is tasked with the job of stuffing holes.
So this is where he went after top-ranked Western Dubuque conquered No. 3 Solon, 37-17, for the Class 3A state football championship Thursday night at the UNI-Dome:
“The past year, we’ve had a hole in our heart,” Willie said, referring to the Bobcats’ championship-game loss to Cedar Rapids Xavier. “And now, we’ve finally filled it.”
The Bobcats (13-0) bounced back after surrendering a short-field touchdown on the opening drive. They didn’t let the Spartans back into the end zone until the final minute of the game, well after the outcome had been decided.
“They definitely punched us in the mouth on the first drive,” said defensive back Ben Bryant, who led the Bobcats with eight tackles (in addition to his two rushing touchdowns). “After that, the big thing was to stay calm and trust each other.”
The Bobcats held Solon to 146 yards of total offense through the first three quarters.
“They took away our deep-range and medium-range passes,” Solon quarterback Cam Miller said. “They had a great scheme, and their defensive linemen and linebackers were studs. It was tough to run on them.”
Miller completed 29 of 37 passes, the majority of which were quick passes to the sidelines, most for 10 yards or less. He finished with 174 yards.
“I don’t want to see what the difference was in yards after contact,” Solon Coach Kevin Miller said. “If you’re going to beat a great team — and (Western Dubuque) is a great team — you have to execute better than we did tonight.”
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After Western Dubuque punter Gabe Ulrich bobbled a snap on the first possession of the game, Solon marched 30 yards for a quick 7-0 lead. By halftime, the Bobcats were in command, 20-7, and one of the top Solon players, A.J. Coons, was out with a knee injury for the rest of the night.
Ulrich made up for his miscue in the third quarter. After Will Burds’ catch-and-run 70-yard touchdown extended the lead to 30-10, the Bobcats stripped Jace Andregg of the ball on the subsequent kickoff and Ulrich — the kicker — got into the fray and recovered the ball.
“(Logan) Brosius hit him, I saw the ball pop out and I knew I had to get that ball,” said Ulrich, who popped up from the bottom of the pile, tossed the ball to the official and sprinted downfield to retrieve the kicking tee.
Bryant scored on a 3-yard run six plays later to make it 37-10.
Solon had successive second-half drives of 16 and 13 plays, both of which advanced inside the Bobcats’ 10-yard line. They resulted in just a field goal.
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