Prep Football

Western Dubuque downs Solon for Class 3A state football championship

Calvin Harris amassed 283 yards and threw for 2 scores, Bobcats win second title and first since 2001

CEDAR FALLS — Consider it a coincidence, a sign or maybe even an omen.

Calvin Harris was born two days before Western Dubuque won its first state football title in 2001. Interestingly, the 18-year-old quarterback was the first to help the Bobcats return to the finals a year ago. He also became the only quarterback to lead Western Dubuque to a crown since his infancy.

Harris amassed 283 total yards and threw for two touchdowns and the top-ranked Bobcats defeated No. 3 Solon, 37-17, in the Class 3A state championship Thursday night at the UNI-Dome.

“It’s really cool because that was the year we were born,” Harris said of his senior teammates. “It’s cool for it to come full circle like that and for our community.”

Western Dubuque completed a perfect season with a 13-0 record. The Bobcats had unfinished business since last year’s runner-up finish to Cedar Rapids Xavier. They had this moment in their sights.

“It’s been our mindset to get back here all year long,” Western Dubuque’s Will Burds said. “During the summer, everyone was working for it. This was the goal. It feels good to get back and actually win it this time.”

Harris’ poise helped Western Dubuque thrive on third down in the opening half, which keyed three straight scoring drives for a 20-7 halftime lead.

Western Dubuque Coach Justin Penner said Harris suffered a high-ankle sprain last week in the semifinal victory over Lewis Central and didn’t practice Sunday or Monday before working out heavily taped Tuesday.

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“He’s not a 17- or 18-year-old kid,” Penner said. “He’s more mature and more poised than I am.

“I think play in and play out throughout the year, I felt like he was one of the best players in the state.”

The Bobcats converted 7 of 8 third downs with the only failure coming on a lackluster first drive that resulted in a mishandled punt snap and turnover on downs in their own territory that Solon turned into points.

The first conversion provided a key spark. Facing third-and-9 from their own 23 on the second offensive series, Harris avoided a rusher to extend the play and hit Ben Bryant on a short completion. Poor tackling combined with hard running resulted in a 10-yard gain to move the chains. Western Dubuque never looked back.

Jake Hosch capped the 78-yard, 10-play drive with a 7-yard touchdown reception and the first of two scores.

“We had great play calls,” Harris said. “Coaches called great plays all night. That was huge for us. Staying ahead of the sticks and then when we got behind we converted some plays and it really worked out for us.”

The Bobcats converted all three third downs on the next possession, receiving runs of 13 and 8 from Harris, who also hit Burds for an 18-yard gain for the other. Hosch pushed through a scrum for a 2-yard score and 14-7 edge with 6:18 left in the first half.

Western Dubuque capitalized on a short field with just 3:38 left before the break. On third-and-10 from the 16, Ben Bryant knifed through the middle of the Solon defense for a 16-yard score.

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“It was insane,” Solon Coach Kevin Miller said. “You’ve got to get off the field on third down and we didn’t do it. To win championships, you have to close them out on third down and we didn’t do that.”

In the second half, the Bobcats took advantage of a pair of Solon fumbles and produced the big play to pull away.

A Spartans fumble on the first play of the second half led to Gabe Ulrich’s 22-yard field goal.

Solon answered with a 22-yard field goal from Cael O’Neill to make it a 13-point spread, but that didn’t last long.

Harris hit Burds on a short pass on the first play of the next drive. Burds received a key block from Payton Quagliano and his speed turned it into a 70-yard TD, dashing from one sideline to the other for the score and 30-10 lead.

“Once we were outside, we were weaving and got to the end zone,” Burds said. “We kind of let it play out and it worked perfect.”

Ulrich recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, excitingly handing the ball to the referee before running back to pick up his tee. Bryant added his second TD with a 3-yarder with 37 seconds remaining.

Harris led Western Dubuque with 80 rushing yards and threw for 203 yards. Penner described Harris as a servant leader and he will be hard to replace.

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“He’s a great human being,” Penner said. “To be honest, I’m going to miss coaching him.”

Late in the contest, the Bobcats drew up a play on the sideline and ran out of the “I” formation to honor former coach Tom Kilburg, who led the 2001 team and was in the hospital after a recent car accident.

“He’s a guy who developed this program and made it what it is,” Penner said. “We really wanted to pay our respect to the fact that he’s the man who made this program.”

Solon (12-1) took an early lead thanks to the short field for its first possession. Cam Miller’s 3-yard TD run gave the Spartans a 7-0 lead. Cam Miller helped keep Solon in it, passing for 174 yards including a 2-yard score to Jace Andregg late. Miller led Solon with 83 rushing yards.

The loss doesn’t put a damper on what has been a special season for the Spartans.

“I’m really proud of our football team,” Miller said. “For this team to continue to improve the way they have over the span of the last 14 weeks that is a true measure of success.”

Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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