By Pat Harty
Your Prep Sports
SOLON – The walk back to the locker room on Friday was done mostly in silence with exception to the sounds of some of the Solon players sobbing.
Senior tight end Jacob Coons was distraught knowing that his high school football career had ended with a 28-14 loss to top-ranked and two-time defending Class 3A state champion Pella in the quarterfinals. He and fellow senior Jackson Walker shared a tearful embrace outside the Solon locker room as Jackson wished Coons good luck in the next chapter in his life as an Iowa football player.
“It does mean a ton because they invest a lot,” Solon coach Kevin Miller said of his players. “We ask a lot from our players, the weight training, just the various commitments that we expect from them. So when you invest something, it hurts. And that’s what we’re seeing right now is a group of kids that are hurting because they’ve invested a lot.
“I couldn’t be any more proud, especially of these seniors. They’ve done a great job of leading by example and modeling the type of things that represent our program.”
Pella used the passing of senior quarterback Nick Finney and a relentless defense to stay alive in the playoffs. The Dutch improved to 11-0 overall, while Solon ended the season at 9-2, it’s other loss coming to Class 1A power Regina in the second week of the season.
Finney completed 22-of-29 passes for 310 yards and three touchdowns, while the Pella defense held Solon to just 27 rushing yards.
The Spartans struggled to contain Pella’s top two receivers, Ryan Van Wyk and Donovan Holterhaus, both of whom stand 6-foot-5. Van Wyk scored the first two touchdowns in the game on passes of 23 and 59 yards from Finney in the second quarter.
Van Wyk’s second touchdown catch came with just 21 seconds left in the second quarter. The Dutch also made the 2-point conversion and led 14-0 at halftime.
Solon senior quarterback Blayze Griffis
The lead swelled to 28-0 before the Spartans mounted a comeback.
“That makes a big difference,” Miller said of the height of Pella’s top two receivers. “We just couldn’t matchup on the perimeter with those guys. We thought through pressure or by other means, we could get them kind of out of their comfort zone.
“But just when you can throw the ball up and guys can make plays, we had guys there. It’s not like we weren’t there. They just made plays.”
The Spartans refused to wilt, though, and sliced the 28-point deficit in half as senior quarterback Blayze Griffis threw two touchdown passes to junior Payton Bandy in the second half.
Bandy’s second touchdown catch covered 18 yards and trimmed the lead to 28-14 with 7 minutes, 57 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
“We’re brothers so we’d never give up on each other,” Griffis said. “We just rally off of each other and believe in one another.”
The Solon players responded to a simple yet powerful message at halftime.
“We’re not done,” Bandy said of the halftime speech. “We’re going to finish strong. We’re going to get stronger as the game continues.”
And that’s exactly what happened.
The Spartans had driven deep into Pella territory when Griffis tried to connect with Coons in the end zone. However, the pass was intercepted by Holterhaus with 2:48 remaining in the fouth quarter.
“They had two high safeties and we told Jake just to try and split them, and I put too much air on the ball,” Griffis said.
Solon’s defense was strong against the run from start to finish, limiting Pella to just 42 rushing yards on 25 carries.
“At the end of the day, they had a couple guys that made plays and kudos to them,” Miller said of Pella. “When you have playmakers you give them the ball and they were able to do that. We didn’t have an answer.
“But I couldn’t be any more pleased with our run defense, I’ll tell you that. We played stout against the run.”
Solon’s inability to run made things more difficult for Griffis, who was sacked four times and finished with a minus-11 rushing yards.
“Obviously, Pella is a great team and they were bringing some pressure and different looks that we didn’t know how to take advantage of until the second half,” Griffis said. “So it just gave us some trouble.”
Griffis fought back tears as he reflected on his career as a Spartan.
“Me and my brothers have grinded for hours on this field,” Griffis said. “Obviously, it hurts, just seeing how far we’ve come and just falling short, it hurts.”
Bandy said the players eventually would come to appreciate what they accomplished this season. Friday was too soon, though.
“We’ll look at the positives,” Bandy said. “But it’s always going sting.”
Solon was held to just 10 yards in the first half and to a minus-18 rushing yards. The Spartans then switched to a no-huddle offense in the second half and that had a positive effect.
Griffis finished with 192 passing yards after passing for just 28 yards in the first half.
“We got in a tempo with some no huddle and I think that paid huge dividends,” Miller said. “We just kind of stalled out. And part of it was field position. We just couldn’t flip the field. We had our backs against the wall. We just couldn’t get anything going in establishing anything.
“We kind of got out of a rhythm offensively. And we’re a tempo offense. We had to get something going first. But we never really got anything going. And when that happens, boy, it’s difficult. But the second half, I thought we got something going from a tempo standpoint. We executed better.”
Griffis fought back tears as he tried to explain what makes playing football for Solon so special.
“It’s a brotherhood,” Griffis said. “The coaches are like our fathers. We just bonded, even before freshmen year. It’s just a really big bond.”
Miller praised his team, especially the seniors, for not collapsing under the dire circumstances.
“I just can’t say enough about the fight in our kids,” Miller said. “A lot of kids and a lot of teams would have folded. And our kids just kept fighting and battling. And we were still there.
“There was five minutes left and we had the ball on the 25-yard line and we threw an interception there. But I couldn’t be more pleased with our effort and our resiliency in this game.”
First downs 17 14
Rushes-yards 25-42 23-27
Passing yards 310 192
Fumbles-lost 0-0 0-0
Penalties-yards 4-25 2-20
Pella 0 14 7 7 – 28
Solon 0 0 7 7 – 14
PEL – Ryan Van Wyk 23 pass from Nick Finney (kick blocked)
PEL – Van Wyk 59 pass from Finney (Tyson Wassenaar pass from Finney)
PEL – Wassenaar 32 pass from Finney (Kaden Miedema kick)
PEL – Finney 1 run (Miedema kick)
SOL – Payton Bandy 11 pass from Blayze Griffis (Anthony Bullard kick)
SOL – Bandy 18 pass from Griffis (Bullard kick)
Rushing – Pella: Nick Finney 20-32, Avery Van Zee 4-5, Donovan Holterhaus 1-5. Solon: Kendrick Harris 12-24, Trevor Nelson 2-16, Graeson Dall 1-minus-2, Blayze Griffis 8-minus-11.
Passing – Pella: Finney 22-29-3-310. Solon: Griffis 21-30-3-192.
Receiving – Pella: Ryan Van Wyk 8-155, Donovan Holterhaus 8-61, Avery Van Zee 3-43, Tyson Wassenaar 1-32, Jordan Weppler 1-9. Solon: Kendrick Harris 6-41, Jacob Coons 5-53, Graeson 3-37, Grant Goldsberry 3-36, Payton Bandy 2-29.