SOLON — What kind of football town is this?
For starters, Solon has a seven-year-old stadium that would be the envy of many small colleges, let alone a Class 3A Iowa high school.
It’s the kind in which its head coach, Kevin Miller, holds an in-season weekly Wednesday night “huddle” at a restaurant in town, where people come for a taco bar and to get updates on his team.
It’s the kind in which the phrase “Spartan Stadium: Where Excellence is a Tradition” is displayed in big lettering inside the stadium on the outer wall of the press box.
It’s the kind in which the high school’s athletics boosters club holds a silent auction with items like golf weekends, a wine-and-popcorn basket, and even a gift certificate from a taxidermist. A big-ticket item Friday was a Solon football helmet signed by former Spartan Tyler Linderbaum, now the starting center for the Iowa Hawkeyes.
By halftime of Friday night’s Davenport Assumption-Solon game, the bidding for the helmet had gone up to $200.
Linderbaum is one of many players who did big football things here. He followed James Morris and Marshall Koehn on the 14-mile trek from Spartan Stadium to Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium. He’s one of so many players who have helped Solon win and win and win.
Miller’s 19-year record here is 180-32. In 2010, Solon became the state’s first team to win four straight state championships. It hasn’t had a regular-season loss since 2016.
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That almost changed Friday night. The Spartans trailed 13-3 at halftime to a good Assumption team that is no stranger to playoff appearances itself. Jace Andregg’s 1-yard touchdown run with 4:43 left in the game gave Solon its first lead of the game, and Jax Flynn’s interception at the Solon 13-yard line with 51 seconds left secured the 17-13 victory.
The players’ postgame celebration was quickly muted when Miller met with them on the field after the teams exchanged handshakes.
Miller let his fifth-ranked club know he was upset with what he called sloppy play. He also stressed how unhappy he was by being told by game officials that his players had used profanity on the field.
He told his team he was proud it had pulled itself back in the game. But the status quo, he insisted, will not stand.
“Defensively, we dug down deep, stopped them when we needed to,” Miller said after the team meeting. “Offensively, we made some plays in the second half. But boy, we’ve got a long ways to go. We’ve got to get better.
“Our kids found a way to win, and that says something about their character, but it’s our lack of discipline and attention to details that needs to improve. And that’s on me to make sure that happens.”
Much is expected here. At halftime, a 10th anniversary of sorts was noted for Solon’s state-title teams. A dozen players who were on the Spartans’ teams of 2007, 2008 and 2009 were saluted. They had their own viewing place of the game on a bleacher on the stadium’s track.
“A lot of teams helped set the standard here,” Miller said.
This year’s Spartans have three Division I recruits on offense, all headed to winning FCS programs. Quarterback Cam Miller is going to North Dakota State, receiver AJ Coons to South Dakota State, and receiver Andregg to Northern Iowa.
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But the star of this game was senior linebacker Flynn. Besides his last-minute pick, he intercepted a first-quarter pass in the end zone and had a third-quarter fumble recovery that set up Solon’s first touchdown.
“Credit the D-line,” Flynn said about his late interception that sealed the win. “Caleb Ebert was getting in (the Assumption quarterback’s) face the whole time forcing him to roll out and throw that throw.”
Flynn’s comment was that of a team guy. That should please Miller. So should the fact his guys so clearly cared about rallying to win.
“We’ll learn and grow from this,” Miller said. “We’ll be ready, because this is unacceptable. I take responsibility for our lack of execution.”
And come the next Friday, they’ll pursue their 30th-straight regular-season victory. Nothing’s broken here or remotely close to it. There’s simply a standard of excellence to meet.
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