HARLAN, Iowa | In the end, Justin Smith had a simple explanation.
"The better team took over," said the Sergeant Bluff-Luton coach after his team fell to Harlan. "They played better football than us tonight. They were an awfully good football team."
No. 6 Harlan shut out the high-powered fourth-ranked Sergeant Bluff-Luton offense in the second half on its way to a 41-15 victory in a Class 3A state quarterfinal here Friday.
The Warriors made things interesting with a touchdown in the final seconds of the first half, but the Cyclones' offensive line and running game took over after that. Harlan outscored SB-L 21-0 after the break as the Warriors couldn't slow Class 3A's leading rusher Nick Foss.
The senior ran for 193 yards and found the end zone five times in the game and quarterback Deren Schmitz, who missed most of the season with a broken finger, ran for 77 yards and a score while throwing for another 134 through the air.
"(Foss) is a heck of a football player, he is really, really good," Smith said. "They were obviously much bigger than us and more physical. My guys played their tails off and gave it everything they had and we just lost to a better team tonight."
"(Schmitz) was able to run like that because they dominated the line. They probably had us outgained on the line by 80 pounds a kid. We had to take the running back away on some of those things and (Schmitz) was able to make his play."
"(Schmitz) was running real well tonight and the last couple games he came back he didn't run much," said Harlan Coach Curt Bladt, who has won 11 state titles at the school. "That was kind of the difference-maker for the offense having one more guy carrying the ball. Foss was getting a little tired but he had some great runs.
"Those were tough yards and (Foss) had the kickoff return and he is playing every down on defense. He is a tough kid."
The Cyclones ran for 299 yards as a team.
Harlan (10-1) will face fifth-ranked Pella (10-1) in the semifinals on Thursday at 5:35 p.m. in the UNI-Dome.
The Warriors, who suffered their first loss of the season to finish at 10-1, were looking to get back in the semifinals for the second time since 2015 when it fell to Norwalk.
"This group of seniors is one of the best I have ever had and are great young men," Smith said. "These guys were 1-7 as freshman in freshman football. They just stuck with it and kept grinding, kept getting bigger. I am awfully proud of those guys."
Harlan, in the playoffs for the 36th time, looked to be in control of the game when the Warriors were unable to take advantage of an interception deep in their own territory. Schmitz had a 39 yard run followed by Foss going into the end zone from 12 yards out to make it 14-0.
The Warriors got the jumpstart they were looking for as Sam DeMoss took the ensuing kickoff straight up the field 85 yards for the touchdown. However, the SB-L cheers were short-lived as Foss scored his third touchdown of the first half as he took the Warriors kickoff 91 yards to the end zone to make it 20-8.
Harlan would then pick off SB-L quarterback Daniel Wright when Jared Moser snagged a pass, but the Warrior defense stepped up and forced a three-and-out.
SB-L's next drive would begin at their own 2-yard line after the Cyclone punt.
DeMoss had a 10-yard reception and Ty Boekelman hauled in a 38-yarder from Wright. After a holding penalty on the Warriors, Wright hit Alex Freiberg for 33 yards. Backup QB Dylan Laughlin would connect with Conner Groves from 7 yards out with five seconds left in the half to pull SB-L to 20-15 at the break.
The 98-yard drive gave the Warriors some momentum.
"We felt pretty good about it and thought we could do some things, but when we got behind it kind of forced us away from the things that were there," Smith said.
The Warriors hurt themselves in the first half with six penalties that stalled some drives early in the game.
"In our three phases mentally, emotional and physical I would say the mental phase was lacking in the first quarter especially," Smith said. "That cost us."
Foss, who scored the first touchdown of the game on a 55-yard run, capped an efficient five-play drive to open the second half with a 2-yard plunge into the end zone to make it 27-15.
Britton Delperdang, who came into the game second in 3A in rushing with more than 1,500 yards, ran for 116 yards and Wright threw for 147 yards through the air. However, the Harlan defense did a good job of limiting the Warriors' quick passing game and had a pair of interceptions.