By Darin Svenson For the Herald
The Clinton Herald
---- — 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.
The ensuing drive for Decorah gave the Vikings the lead for good. Pierce connected with Svestka from 50 yards away. The Andy Sikkink extra point gave Decorah the lead 14-10.
“Give them credit for that answer before halftime,” Bowman said. “That was a back-breaker at that time giving up that big play.”
Maquoketa got the ball to start the second half but failed to get a first down. Decorah took over at the Cardinals’ 39 after a 6-yard punt. Four plays later, Pierce scored his second rushing touchdown of the night, giving the Vikings a 21-10 lead with 8:59 left.
The Cardinals got within four after a Jacob Kloft 61-yard punt return for a score with 3:01 left in the third to make it 21-17 Decorah.
But the Vikings took a two-score leader a possession later with a 64-yard touchdown run 1:34 later.
“I’m very proud of our kids’ effort,” Bowman said. “We went toe-to-toe with the defending state champion and the number two team in the state, and they’re very deserving of that ranking.”
Bollman ended his career with a 20-for-45 passing performance with 257 yards and a touchdown. Strathman had nine catches for 128 yards and a touchdown.
Third-down conversions were a telling stat in the game. Decorah was 6-of-12 and Maquoketa was 3-for-15.
The Cardinals finished the season 7-4 and are 24-11 the last three seasons. Bowman is pleased with the direction of the program.
“This is the fifth straight year we’ve been in the playoffs, and we’ve only made the playoffs twice before that,” he said. “We like to think that things are starting to role for us, and the challenge is to keep that going.”
Decorah (11-0) and will host Solon in the quarterfinals Friday night.
DECORAH 40, MAQUOKETA 24
Maquoketa 7 3 7 7 — 24
Decorah 0 14 14 12 — 40
M — Ben Strathman 4 pass from Trent Bollman (Cameron Thede kick), 5:28
D — Bryce Pierce 5 run (Cole Svestka kick), 4:45
M — FG Thede 24, 3:00
D — Svestka 50 pass from Pierce (Andy Sikkink kick), :37
D — Pierce 2 run (Sikkink kick), 8:59
M — Jacob Kloft 61 punt return (Thede kick), 3:01
D — Pierce 64 (Sikkink kick), 1:27
D — Jake Hovden 61 punt return (kick failed), 9:37
M — Cohl Kueter 1 run (Thede kick), 6:26
D — Mikhail Suvorov 44 run (kick failed), 1:51
RUSHING — Maquoketa (29-82), Cohl Kueter 12-38, Jacob Kloft 8-32, Trent Bollman 8-13, Team 1-minus 1; Decorah (42-247), Bryce Pierce 9-96, Mikhail Suvorov 17-92, Jacob Leeps 12-45, Jake Hovden 2-13, Sam Johnson 1-3, Cole Svestka 1-minus-2.
PASSING — Maquoketa (20-45-1-257), Bollman 20-45-1-257; Decorah (7-11-0-163), Pierce 7-11-0-163.
RECEIVING — Maquoketa, Ben Strathman 9-128, Alexander Gilmore 4-86, Joshua Dietzel 3-17, William Tubbs 2-20, Corderol Campbell 1-4, Kloft 1-2; Decorah, Kyle Kane 3-61, Svestka 1-50, Suvorov 1-35, Leeps 1-13, Dustin Cary 1-4.