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DECORAH – There's an old saying: you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone.
For the Solon football team, five straight trips to the state semifinals, four straight championships and 42 straight wins spoiled the Spartans.
A two-year state semifinal drought since Solon's last title – in Class 3A 2010 – ended last night in a 28-20 road win over Class 3A No. 2 Decorah, and the Spartans aren't about to take this one for granted.
"I think sometimes you don't appreciate the fact that when you go there for five straight years, what it is to be there," said Solon Coach Kevin Miller. "And now being away from it for a couple years, being away from that magical experience, I think you respect it that much more."
Solon earned its way back to the UNI-Dome on the strength of a young man who is new to the Spartan tradition.
Monticello transfer and quarterback Jacob Black was everywhere on the field for Solon, carrying the ball 25 times for 112 yards and two touchdowns, and going 7 of 10 through the air for 133 yards, one interception and two more scores.
Black also had the game-ending interception of Decorah's Bryce Pierce.
Miller pointed to the difficult task it can be for a teenager to come into a new school for his senior year and adapt as one of many reasons he's proud of his quarterback. His knowledge on both sides of the ball, Miller said, keeps the Spartans in line and is one of the biggest reasons for their success.
"It says a lot about his leadership. We put a lot on his shoulders, obviously, a lot of the things we do go directly through him," Miller said. "He leads by example. He's a positive leader. I can't say enough great things about what he's meant to our program.
"He's been a natural fit, and the kids have embraced him as a leader."
Black was swarmed by teammates and fans on the field after the team huddle broke.
The meaning of the moment was etched firmly in the ear-to-ear grin spread across the senior's face. He was giddy when talking about the chance to play in the state semifinals for the first time in his career.
Getting to that point, he said, required a style of play that Miller and the other coaches consistently preached during the short turnaround from Monday to Friday.
"It feels great. I've never personally been there, so I'm going to live every moment of it," Black said. "Coach challenged us, we've got to play physical and harder. And we did, we answered his challenge."
Solon got the win despite being outgained in total yardage, 372-363, and avoided a late rally from Decorah – the Vikings scored on a 62-yard pass play to make it 28-20 with 3:01 left – that ended on Black's interception.
The Vikings had come in with 25 straight wins and was seeking a second straight state championship.
With not a lot of time to prepare and on a mission to get back that feeling they'd missed since 2010, Miller said the Spartans went back to what they do best – running the football. And 230 team rushing yards later, a semifinal matchup with Washington (Iowa) awaits in Cedar Falls.
"With such a short turnaround, obviously you can't make a lot of changes," Miller said. "So what we do, obviously, is we're going to run the football right at you. We're a physical team, and I thought tonight that was the difference in the game.
"We held on. I thought we did the things we wanted to do."