DECORAH — The Decorah Vikings are now on a school record 25-game winning streak. But in that time they had not received as tough a challenge as they did Monday night.
A team that trailed for only 2 minutes and 19 seconds all season and 7:41 in the past two seasons didn’t take the lead until there were 37 seconds left in the first half Monday night against Maquoketa in the Iowa Class 3A football playoffs. Decorah took a 14-10 lead on a 50-yard pass from Bryce Pierce to Cole Svestka late in the half and pulled away to a 40-24 victory.
The start was just what the underdog Cardinals needed. After winning the toss and deferring their choice to the second half, the Maquoketa defense forced the Vikings into a three-and-out. The Cardinals’ offense drove 61 yards in 11 plays, ending in a Trent Bollman-to-Benjamin Strathman 4-yard scoring connection, giving Maquoketa a 7-0 lead with 5:28 left in the first quarter.
“It was a good balance of run and pass that got us going,” Cardinals coach Kevin Bowman said. “The good start was key for us playing a great program toe-to-toe.”
After another Decorah three-and-out, Maquoketa drove to the Decorah 23-yard line, but incomplete passes on third and fourth downs gave the Vikings the ball on downs.
Decorah drove to the Cardinals’ 12 on the next possession, but Cole Svestka missed a 30-yard field goal with 7:09 left in the second quarter.
Maquoketa’s lone turnover came on its next drive, when Decorah’s Colin Nimrod intercepted a Bollman pass and returned it to the Cardinals’ 30. Four plays later, Vikings quarterback Pierce had his first of three touchdown runs, a 5-yard score to tie the game with 4:45 left in the second quarter.
The Cardinals grabbed the momentum again, though. Strathman returned the kickoff 42 yards to the Maquoketa 47. On the first play of the drive, Bollman connected with Alex Gillmore for a 46-yard connection to the Decorah 7. The drive resulted in a Cameron Thede 24-yard field goal, giving the Cardinals a 10-7 lead with 3:00 left in the first half.