SERGEANT BLUFF — There will be no more outdoor football for Sergeant Bluff-Luton this season.
Instead, the Warriors are heading to the comfortable confines of the UNI-Dome.
Sergeant Bluff-Luton steamed past Norwalk 54-28 in an Iowa Class 3A playoff quarterfinal here Friday night, earning a repeat trip to the semifinals in Cedar Falls.
The Warriors won for the 10th straight time since a season-opening loss to Council Bluffs Lewis Central and will take on top-ranked and unbeaten Solon in a semifinal Thursday.
Daniel Wright passed for 244 yards and four touchdowns and opportunistic SB-L took advantage of five turnovers to advance to a semifinal for the third time in the last five seasons.
Wright completed 20 of 27, connecting with four different receivers for scores. The SB-L defense gave up some yards to talented Norwalk quarterback Zach Marker but came up with a big momentum-shifting play late in the second quarter.
Although Sergeant Bluff-Luton scored the first 30 points, Norwalk had averted a shutout and was on the move again when Gage Morgan stepped in front of a short pass and returned it 73 yards for a touchdown.
That made it 37-7 and even though Norwalk scored again before halftime and also missed a 26-yard field goal as time expired, SB-L had things firmly in hand by intermission.
Marker finished with 379 total yards, passing for 225 and two touchdowns and rushing for 154 yards on 24 carries.
“Their quarterback is one of the toughest competitors I’ve ever coached against and they have a big, physical line,” SB-L Coach Justin Smith said. “For our guys to hang in there and throw some punches after taking a few punches here and there. We won the turnover battle, which we absolutely had to do tonight and that was the big difference.”
Things began to unravel for Norwalk (9-2) late in the first quarter.
A punt pinned the visitors at their own 4-yard line and Marker was called for intentional grounding in the end zone, resulting in a safety.
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After the free kick, Sergeant Bluff-Luton took just seven plays to move 47 yards and increase its advantage to 9-0 on Wright’s first touchdown pass, a 10-yarder to Kaden Helt, who juked a defender on his way to the end zone.
Wade Phair recovered a fumble to set up a 15-yard pass from Wright to Deric Fitzgerald and after Niko Karras pounced on another loose ball, Helt scored on a 2-yard run on the first play of the second quarter.
Sergeant Bluff-Luton made it 30-0 when Wright threw 21 yards to Ashton VerDoorn with 7:37 still remaining in the first half.
“We knew they were going to blitz some guys so we knew we had to make plays,” Wright said. “We scored a ton of points in the first half and were really rolling there for a while.
“The offensive line did a great job. They were really soupy tonight and I was really proud of them.”
Helt, who rushed for 245 yards in a first-round win over Carlisle and was off to another good start, left the game for good in the second quarter because of an apparent ankle injury.
Enter Cory Bates, who wound up with 65 yards on 10 carries including a 49-yard touchdown dash.
“We have great kids here and they’re really great young men who like to work hard and liked to be coached hard,” Smith said. “They’re going to learn from their mistakes and they have a desire to improve and get better.”
David Clausen kicked a 25-yard field goal and Wright found a wide-open Ben Freiberg for a 48-yard score before the third quarter ended, giving SB-L a 47-14 cushion.
SB-L gave up 453 total yards but made adjustments when needed, stopping Norwalk twice on downs in the second half after it had gained some momentum.
“We made a couple little adjustments to what we were doing upfront but our kids just played better,” Smith said. “We tackled the quarterback pretty well all night but he’s a really tough kid and it’s tough to stop everything they do. You have to take some chances and we were able to have really good coverage most of the night.”
Sergeant Bluff-Luton is the No. 4 seed and will play No. 1 Solon in one semifinal. Western Dubuque and Lewis Central meet in the other.
“I’m really excited for me and the guys,” Wright said. “At the start of the season a lot of people didn’t really believe in us and I think we’ve come so far as a team. We’ve grown in all aspects of football and it’s been fun to get better week in and week out with these guys.
“I think we’ve been building on it. This team is really hardworking and I’m excited to see what we can do next Thursday.”