Your Prep Sports
MANCHESTER – All season Zeb Kleinsmith has waited for the opportunity to impact a game.
When that moment finally came for the Solon junior on Friday night it was with the game and the Spartan’s season on the line.
Consider the opportunity seized.
Kleinsmith blocked a punt and returned it himself for the go-ahead touchdown as third-ranked Solon stunned fifth-ranked West Delaware 23-19 in a Class 3A state quarterfinal in Manchester.
“All year I’ve been looking forward to special teams since my opportunities on offense and defense aren’t the best because of our great senior class,” Kleinsmith said. “I just wanted to make my mark on special teams.”
Kleinsmith made his mark in the most memorable of ways on Friday.
With Solon trailing 19-16 with 1:59 to play West Delaware faced a 4th and 2 at its own 44.
Twice the Hawks lined up appearing poised to go for it but both times called timeout after attempting to get Solon to jump offside.
When the Hawks eventually elected to punt the ball away Kleinsmith made the type of play he pictured making all week.
“I told myself every night this week that I was going to make a play that wouldn’t be forgotten,” Kleinsmith said. “That’s the play I made.”
Kleinsmith came unblocked off the left side of the line and blocked the punt before locating the ball at the Hawk 20 yard line.
The 195-pound reserve lineman scooped up the loose ball and went untouched into the end zone to give Solon its first lead of the game with 1:51 left.
“The last guy looked inside for a quick second and that’s when I knew I had him beat,” Kleinsmith said. “Right after that ball hit me in the stomach I watched the ball go straight and I knew what I had to do.”
The touchdown by Kleinsmith capped a late flurry by Solon (11-0) as the Spartans scored the final 14 points of the game in a span of a little more than three minutes to return to the state semifinals for the second time in three seasons.
Solon will face second-ranked Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley (11-0) on Saturday at 4 p.m. in the 3A semifinals at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls.
West Delaware closed the season 9-2.
“We just kept telling these guys all year we are going to have to overcome adversity in the playoffs that’s what you do,” Solon coach Lucas Stanton said. “Teams that make it to the Dome overcome adversity and we have to stick together, we’ve just been preaching that all year.”
Solon trailed 12-0 less than seven minutes into the game.
West Delaware took the opening kickoff and went 76 yards in six plays and took a 6-0 lead on a 1 yard touchdown run by Wyatt Voelker.
Quarterback Kyle Cole scored on a 4 yard run to put the Hawks up 12-0 with 5:02 left in the opening quarter.
The first three possessions of the game for Solon resulted in two first downs and ended with a lost fumble, a punt and an interception.
Yet the Spartans trailed just 12-6 after Blake Timmons capped a 6-play, 57-yard march with a 1 yard touchdown run with 58 seconds left in the first quarter.
“We knew it was going to be dog fight coming in,” Timmons said. “They are a real physical team and we knew we were going to have to be physical and it would be a four-quarter game.”
Brent Lumpkin cut the lead to 12-9 at the half with a 30 yard field goal.
After a scoreless third quarter West Delaware appeared to take control of the game when Luke Kehrli scored on a 5 yard run to push the lead to 19-9 with 10:08 left.
Solon got back into the game with a quick strike scoring drive.
Timmons raced 58 yards on a scramble on second and 10.
“I was supposed to pass there but I saw an opening and I just had to get as many yards as I could,” Timmons said. “
The run set up a 30 yard touchdown pass from Timmons to Sean Stahle on a throwback screen to that trimmed the lead to 19-16 with 4:58 left.
“We put that in this week because we thought they would sell out on the run,” Timmons said. “We put that in this week and it worked well.”
West Delaware got one first down on its ensuing drive taking more than three minutes off the clock but Solon forced the punt and Kleinsmith made the play of the game.
“I knew we were going after it but I had my back turned talking to coach (Joe) Wilcox about what we were thinking when we got the ball back and I just heard a thump,” Stanton said. “When I turned around I just saw Zeb going to scoop the ball up.”
A Solon offense that entered averaging 258 rushing yards and 412 total yards per game was held to 127 yards on the ground and a season-low 256 total yards.
However, the Spartans made plays when it counted.
We knew that our game plan was going to work,” Timmons said. “With having so many athletes we knew we could make them miss out in space.”
West Delaware rushed for 262 yards but Solon limited the Hawks to 94 yards on the ground on 29 carries in the second half.
After the blocked punt West Delaware moved to the Solon 27 with 5.9 seconds left but a desperation toss to the end zone by backup quarterback Conner Funk was tipped away.
“It feels awesome,” Solon senior Logan Sieverding said. “All season we’ve been working our butts off and we just executed tonight.”
First downs 9 17
Rushes-yards 27-127 57-262
Comp-Att-Int 7-16-1 11-19-0
Passing yards 129 90
Total yards 256 352
Punts-avg. 7-29.6 7-35
Fumbles-lost 1-1 1-0
Penalties-yards 2-13 2-20
Solon 6 3 0 14 – 23
West Delaware 12 0 0 7 – 19
WD – Wyatt Voelker 3 run (Kick failed)
WD – Kyle Cole 4 run (Kick failed)
SOL – Blake Timmons 1 run (Kick failed)
SOL – Brent Lumpkin 30 field goal
WD – Luke Kerhli 5 run (Conner Funk kick)
SOL – Sean Stahle 30 pass (Lumpkin kick)
SOL – Zen Kleinsmith 20 blocked punt return (Lumpkin kick)
RUSHING –Solon: Blake Timmons 12-64, Logan Sieverding 4-51, Sean Stahle 11-12. West Delaware: Conner Funk 16-122, Kyle Cole 15-58, Wyatt Voelker 18-41, Will Ward 4-43, Luke Kehrli 1-5, Will Halverson 2-0, Team 1-(-7).
PASSING –Solon: Blake Timmons 7-16-1 129. West Delaware: Kyle Cole 4-7-0 32, Conner Funk 7-11-0 58, Will Ward 0-1-0 0.
RECEIVING –Solon: Logan Sieverding 2-58, Sean Stahle 2-56, Jacob Timmons 1-14, Brady Mullen 1-13, Carson Miller 1-(-2). West Delaware: Will Ward 4-42, Will Halverson 3-5, Luke Kehrli 2-12, Jaxson Woellert 2-31.