By Kurt Ritzman
Assistant Sports Editor
Heading into a Class 3A quarterfinal against the top-ranked football team in the state, Central DeWitt quarterback Mitch Green said the Sabers couldn't afford any mistakes.
The Sabers (8-4) turned the ball over three times — twice in the red zone — and gave Decorah (12-0) a short field once that turned into a touchdown.
It turns out Central DeWitt couldn't afford four mistakes, but the Sabers might have been good enough to overcome three. Decorah advanced to the state semifinals with a 21-14 win, its first game this season that was closer than 20 points.
"That shows how resilient we are," Green said, "and how good our defense is. Even when our offense is sputtering in the run game, we can still find ways to stay in the game.
"It will make it hard when we're thinking about how far we could have or should have gone. But in the end, we can't hang our heads about how far we did make it and how many people we proved wrong."
Decorah took a 21-0 lead early in the fourth quarter, but the Sabers weren't ready to go away.
"The ending of that game revealed a little bit of what we've seen all year from the kids," Central DeWitt coach Mike Miller said. "It was tremendous leadership. They never gave in and they never gave up. ... We came up a little short, but I couldn't be more proud of the effort and the execution of our kids."
Facing the 21-point deficit, Central DeWitt got to work with its rushing attack, tops in Class 3A. The Sabers ran five plays in a row, gaining 32 yards.
Then Green pitched the ball to Jake Feldpausch, who ran 48 yards down the sideline to get the Sabers on the board.
"It felt good, but at the same time I felt like I probably should have done it earlier," Feldpausch said. "It was there all night. It just took me awhile to hit it."
Central DeWitt forced Decorah to fumble on its next possession, and the Sabers took over at their own 20. This time, Green took to passing in a two-minute drill that Miller said the team doesn't even practice.
"It was a lot different than anything we've ever done in practice or anything I've ever done in my career," Green said. "I enjoyed it. We all understood what our roles were and tried to do our best. We didn't want to go away without a fight, that's for sure."
Green completed 7 of 12 passes on the drive for 80 yards, ending with a 26-yard touchdown toss to Lucas Sheppard with 22 seconds left.
The Sabers tried an onside kick, but Decorah recovered it and took a knee to end the game.
"We pushed them all the way to the end, but we ran out of time," Green said.
"I would have liked to play five quarters," senior running back Chris Keitel said.
The problem for the Sabers wasn't finishing, but starting.
"I just feel like we had a slow start," Feldpausch said. "They came out strong, and we didn't really match it right off the bat."
Decorah received the opening kickoff and marched 83 yards — 78 rushing — in 13 plays to take the early lead.
After gaining 83 yards in the first 4:07, the Vikings gained 203 in the next 43:53.
"After that first drive, we definitely came together and started figuring it out a little bit," Keitel said.
The Sabers marched down the field on the ensuing drive, eating almost eight minutes of the clock, gaining 70 yards on 15 plays. But Central DeWitt fumbled a handoff on fourth-and-3 at Decorah's 19.
It was a defensive struggle from that point.
"It was definitely two top defenses," Green said. "Our defense played outstanding. We let them down sometimes by turning the ball over and giving up bad field position."
Decorah took advantage of field position for its next score. With less than three minutes left in the first half, the Vikings took over at Central DeWitt's 42 after a 19-yard punt.
They scored less than two minutes later to go up by two scores.
Decorah again got the ball in an advantageous spot for its third score. Central DeWitt failed to convert on fourth down near midfield — after fumbling inside Decorah's 20 on its first possession of the half — and the Vikings got the ball 47 yards away from the end zone.
They again converted on the short field.
Then the Sabers started their comeback that come up just short.
"I think in the fourth quarter we just realized we could do it," Feldpausch said. "Everybody got more confidence."
The Sabers just wish that came a little earlier, or they got a fifth quarter.
DECORAH 21, CENTRAL DEWITT 14
Central DeWitt 0 0 0 14 — 14
Decorah 7 7 0 7 — 21
D — Holt Johansen 4 run (Josh Lee kick), 7:53
D — Brett Johnson 11 pass from Jacob Kvale (Lee kick), 0:54
D — Johansen 1 run (Lee kick), 9:48
CD — Jake Feldpausch 48 run (Keegan Lass kick), 7:38
CD — Lucas Sheppard 26 pass from Mitch Green (Lass kick), 0:22
RUSHING — Central DeWitt (38-170), Jake Feldpausch 7-83, Chris Keitel 13-67, Austin Lechtenberg 8-12, Mitch Green 10-8; Decorah (36-261), Holt Johansen 24-163, Josey Jewell 11-65, Jacob Kvale 7-17, Cole Svestka 1-9, Drew Schwartz 1-9).
PASSING — Central DeWitt, Green 14-28-1, 123 yards; Decorah, Kvale 5-11-0, 28 yards.
RECEIVING — Central DeWitt, Lucas Sheppard 4-45, Lechtenberg 2-31, Feldpausch 3-24, Emmitt Enyeart 3-24, AJ Smith 1-6, Keitel 1-(minus 7); Decorah, Brett Johnson 1-11, Johansen 2-9, Jewell 1-6, Schwartz 1-2.