CEDAR FALLS, Iowa | Watching his top-ranked Decorah football team let an early 21-0 cushion dwindle to a 21-14 halftime edge, senior fullback and linebacker Josey Jewell became reflective.
“I thought about how I felt after that game last year and how I don’t ever want to have that feeling again,’’ said Jewell, thinking back to a 21-14 loss to Union Community of LaPorte City in Iowa’s 2011 Class 3A state championship game.
Just like that, a second-quarter comeback bid by fifth-ranked Bishop Heelan was trampled by the emotion and talent of Jewell and a team longtime Decorah Coach Bill Post called a “dream team.’’
Jansen ran for 160 yards and three touchdowns while also completing a 32-yard pass and sharing team honors in tackles as the Vikings thundered their way to a 49-21 victory Thursday night in the UNI-Dome.
For a school that stood 4-0 in state championship games after winning three in a row from 1987-89, it was the fifth title after four consecutive runner-up finishes in 1997, 2004, 2008 and the setback last year.
The ’08 loss, of course, was a 35-7 thumping at the hands of Heelan, which can only hope to follow Decorah’s lead next season and back up a runner-up finish with a title.
The Crusaders, who did just that in ’08, seemed to have made it a ballgame after turning Decorah’s 21-0 advantage into a seven-point margin with two scores in the final seven minutes of the half.
Junior wide receiver Connor Niles capped an 80-yard scoring drive with a 16-yard reverse and then senior tight end Connor Spears pulled in a two-yard bullet from Trent Solsma with 13 seconds left in the half, finishing off a seven-play, 77-yard march that took used up only 70 seconds.
“We felt good going into halftime with that momentum,’’ Heelan Coach Roger Jansen said. “They came out and they got that momentum back, though. They answered everything they could and then some. We just ran into a buzzsaw.’’
Holt Johansen added 16 carries for 62 yards and two touchdowns as Decorah finished off a 14-0 season with 397 total yards, netting 280 on 55 running plays.
“Our line has been pretty good all year and we’ve got two really solid backs,’’ said Post, now 154-52 after 18 seasons at the Decorah helm. “This is a dream team. We were pretty solid in all areas of the game and quick for our size of school. We were very quick and physical. We’ve always been physical. That’s something we’ve always stressed.’’
Against this nine-time finalist came Heelan’s 32nd state playoff team, appearing in its 11th championship contest. It was the Crusaders’ fourth state final in the last six years with the 2008 team adding a title to go with Heelan’s Class 4A crowns from 1975 and 1982.
Solsma, closing out a record-shattering season, threw an interception on the game’s first scrimmage play and it seemed to be a harbinger of problems for Heelan.
Decorah, taking over at the 16 after that first of three picks on the night, punched in a quick TD and was never again to trail.
“They were very physical and fast,’’ said Bryce Sweeney, Heelan’s 6-6, 300-pound senior offensive and defensive tackle. “They walled down well, their line chopped us well. (Jewell) was quick, fast and physical. He was very good.’’
Heelan, 12-2, dodged the 35-point mercy rule when Johansen bolted 71 yards to the end zone with 14 seconds left in the third quarter. With the lead already at 42-14, an illegal block wiped out that play. However, the Vikings achieved a 35-point bulge with 7:36 remaining after quarterback Jacob Kvale hooked up with Michael Peter on a 36-yard TD pass.
Heelan managed to stop the clock just under four minutes later when Niles hauled in a 12-yard touchdown pass. That came just after a 43-yard reception for the talented junior wideout, who finished with 143 yards on seven catches.
Solsma’s 202 yards on a sub-par 13-for-29 night made him the 14th Iowa prep to top 3,000 passing yards in a season, hiking his final 2012 total to 3,149. And, his two scoring passes in the game gave him 39 on the year, a whopping 15 more than the school record set two years ago by Paul Jacoson.
“Decorah was a very simple football team, but they were methodical,’’ said Jansen, whose 14-year record is a nifty 131-28. “They took care of the football. They did a great job on third-down conversions and they did well managing first and second downs. Unfortunately, we just didn’t have an answer for them.’’
Jansen wasn’t ready to contemplate his program’s promising future with seven starters returning on either side of the ball. However, Spears, the scholarly 6-7, 205-pound senior who’ll be visiting Cornell University this weekend, said he had high hopes for the many young teammates who’ll be back next fall.
“I hope they just use this as motivation,’’ Spears said. “It’s a tough loss, but they get one more crack at it.’’
Decorah 49, Bishop Heelan 21
Bishop Heelan 0 14 0 7 -- 21
Decorah 14 7 21 7 -- 49
DEC: Holt Johansen 4 run (Josh Lee kick) 10:27
DEC: Josey Jewell 4 run (Lee kick) 2:46
DEC: Jewell 2 run (Lee kick) 11:23
BH: Connor Niles 17 run (Tyler Stolen kick) 6:53
BH: Connor Spears 2 pass from Trent Solsma (Stolen kick) :13
DEC: Jewell 47 run (Lee kick) 8:33
DEC: Johansen 4 run (Lee kick) 7:27
DEC: Jacob Kvale 5 run (Lee kick) 3:38
DEC: Michael Peter 36 pass from Kvale (Lee kick) 7:36
BH: Niles 12 pass from Solsma (Stolen kick) 3:21
First downs 14 19
Rushes-yards 22-67 55-280
Passing yards 202 117
Passes 13-29-3 5-9-0
Total plays-yards 51-269 64-397
Fumbles-lost 0-0 0-0
Penalties-yards 3-15 5-58
Punts-average 4-42.2 3-30.0
Possession time 19:37 28:23
RUSHING: Bishop Heelan -- Jack Wegher 13-39, Connor Niles 2-20, Trent Solsma 7-8. Decorah -- Josey Jewell 23-160, Holt Johansen 16-62, Drew Schwartz 4-29, Jacob Kvale 5-12, Andy Strand 2-8, Dylan Korsness 2-5, Bryce Pierce 1-4, Dalton Mull 1-1, TEAM 1-(-1).
PASSING: Bishop Heelan -- Solsma 13-29-3 -- 202. Decorah -- Kvale 4-8-0 -- 85; Jewell 1-1-0 -- 32.
RECEIVING: Bishop Heelan -- Niles 7-143, Philip Jacobson 3-45, Jimmy Fitzsimmons 1-13, Connor Spears 1-2, Wegher 1-(-1). Decorah -- Michael Peter 1-36, Drew Schwartz 1-32, Jewell 1-23, Cole Svestka 1-16, Brett Johnson 1-10.