I made my way to the UNI-Dome Thursday for the 3A semifinals and saw two teams that were clearly superior to their opponents. Decorah, ranked No. 1 all year and 13-0, dominated in every facet of the game as they went up on Williamsburg 48-0 before allowing a late score.
Bishop Heelan, a team Spencer fans know all too well, impressed as they jumped all over undefeated Grinnell 21-0 in the first six minutes and cruised to a 42-14 win.
The Decorah-Heelan matchup will be a repeat of the 2008 final, won by Heelan and future Hawkeye Brandon Wegher, 35-10.
Spencer's connection to this game is, of course, as the only team to beat Heelan. Spencer made huge plays on defense, intercepting Heelan QB Trent Solsma five times and forcing a game-sealing fumble, in a 21-14 win. The Tigers also pounded the ball on the ground with both Matt Finnern and Austin Lauck gaining over 100 yards.
In the playoff loss to Heelan, Spencer led after nearly three quarters. So for as good as Heelan has been this season, Spencer has outplayed them for seven quarters - -- giving Heelan the best challenge this season so far (Carroll, who beat Harlan, slowed the Crusaders but lost 17-14).
While I'm biased in this situation as a Decorah High School graduate, the undefeated Vikings don't have a single blemish on their schedule this season. The closest game was in the quarterfinals against Central DeWitt, a 21-14 win. The average score of Decorah's games was 41-7 with four shutouts, and 15 points was the most given up in a single game.
In the semifinal last night, Decorah crushed Williamsburg, who had only lost to undefeated Grinnell, and were clicking on all cylinders. I've seen some great Decorah football in the Dome, ; this team is basically just a reboot of every other team I've ever seen - -- possibly better with a win next week. Decorah is still coached by the same group,, led by Bill Post, that coached when I was in high school -- down to the freshman and sophomore teams.
I witnessed a state final loss to Harlan in 1997 as a freshman in high school, and a semifinal loss in 1998. Decorah fell short in the finals again to Harlan in 2004, Heelan in '08, and Union, LaPorte City last year. My point is simple: this is Decorah's year to cash in another title, and add it to the four others in school history (1974, 1987-89).
Decorah's power-running style is much different than Heelan's, which bodes well for the Vikings. Every team that tried to play the same way as Heelan, was basically run off the field. Spencer didn't play Heelan's shotgun-spread, passing game and they're the only team to give them fits. Grinnell tried to pass it and play Heelan's game Thursday night and were crushed.
Of course I'm pulling for my alma mater next Thursday night, and I'm confident they'll get the job done. A football trophy will look good next to the boys and girls cross country titles Decorah won two weeks ago.
If Heelan would win, Spencer could hang its hat on being the only team to beat the state champs this year. However, from everything I've gathered while being in this area for a couple of years, no one around here is going to be too upset if Heelan loses.
Prediction: Decorah 27, Bishop Heelan 14