By Darin Svenson For the Herald
The Clinton Herald
---- — DECORAH — When you’re facing the defending state champion, you have to make a calculated risk on what to stop. Central DeWitt chose to try and take away the run. But Decorah proved it could pass, as well.
Bryce Pierce threw three touchdown passes as the VIkings ended the Sabers’ season 34-7 in the first round of the Iowa Class 3A football playoffs Wednesday night.
“The first thing we wanted to take away was the run,” Sabers coach Mike Miller said. “We felt we did a job of that, but we knew that would leave us vulnerable to the play-action. That obviously showed its head, and give them credit for making big plays.”
Pierce was 5-for-6 with 91 yards and three touchdowns. He also led Decorah in rushing with 116 yards, including an 81-yard run in the second half to set up Decorah’s final score.
The Vikings scored on their initial posession. A 74-yard, five-play drive ended with a Pierce-to-Holt Johansen 27-yard scoring connection.
After the Sabers went three-and-out on offense, their defense got the momentum back as Lucas Looney recovered a Johansen fumble at the Sabers’ 44. Eleven plays later, Jacob Grell scored a 15-yard touchdown to tie the game at 7 with 3:31 left in the first quarter.
“To be able and get the ball and get a touchdown there was big for us,” Miller said. “Unfortunately, a good team like Decorah has the ability to respond, and they certainly did.”
Decorah took the lead for good on the next possession, with a four-play, 72-yard drive capped by a Pierce-to-Bryton Meyer 26-yard touchdown pass with 1:50 to play in the first quarter.
The next Decorah possession resulted in the third touchdown pass of the night for Pierce, connecting with Cole Svestka for a 51-yard touchdown to give Decorah a 21-7 lead with 10:06 left in the second quarter.
Ryan Burke intercepted a Pierce pass on Decorah’s next possession, but the Sabers couldn’t capitalize with points, leading to a 21-7 halftime lead.
After the Decorah opened up the passing game in the first half, it went back to the run in the second half. Jacob Leeps added touchdown runs of 62 and 2 yards to pull away to the 34-7 victory.
DeWitt ended the regular season with a loss to Marion last Friday, but Miller said he saw improvements from last week.
“One of our big emphasis coming in was playing with more enthusiasm and more aggressiveness from last week, and that definitely was better than the Marion game,” he said. “We played toe-to-toe with them for a while, but they’re a good team that takes advantage when you don’t do things correctly.”
The Sabers did turn the ball over three times, with two interceptions and one fumble.
“They were a very physical team,” Decorah coach Bill Post said. “They come off the ball well, their backs run hard and I can see why they cause problems for people.”
The Sabers started the season by winning two of their first three games but were forced to forfeit both wins for using a player more than four quarters in a night. Central DeWitt rebounded to earn the fourth seed in District 6, earning its second consecutive playoff berth.
“We have an adage, you’re either getting worse or getting better,” second-year coach Miller said. “The two groups we’ve had here have definitely done that. I couldn’t be more proud, even though we end on a sour note. We have good football players, but they’re also great people. Our program is resilient and I’m confident we’ll be back.”
With the win, Decorah moves onto the quarterfinals. It will host Maquoketa at 7 Monday night. As was the game against the Sabers, that, too, will be a rematch from last year’s playoffs.