Nov. 5—SULLY — Lynnville-Sully head football coach Mike Parkinson had a feeling special teams would be a big factor in the Hawks' quarterfinal matchup with AHSTW.
That feeling turned into a reality and Corder Noun Harder's 59-yard punt return late in the first quarter gave the fifth-ranked Hawks a lead they wouldn't relinquish and Lynnville-Sully went on to defeat the fourth-ranked Vikings 20-0 in front of a large home crowd on a wet and rainy Friday night.
"That's how you want to start a game," Noun Harder said. "That really rallied our team. Everyone executed that play and it sent us in the right direction.
"It's unbelievable. There are no words to describe this. The entire team's goal was to make it to the Dome, and it feels so good to accomplish it."
The win sends Lynnville-Sully to the UNI-Dome and the Class A semifinals for the first time since 1986. The Hawks won the championship that season.
They will next face defending Class A champions West Hancock at 10 a.m. on Thursday at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls.
The four remaining teams in Class A — No. 5 Lynnville-Sully, No. 1 West Hancock, No. 2 Grundy Center and No. 3 Woodbury Central — all are 11-0. It's the only class in the state that features four undefeated teams in the semifinals.
Grundy Center, which lost 19-14 to West Hancock in last year's state title game, faces Woodbury Central at 1 p.m. on Thursday in Cedar Falls.
"It's anybody's game when you get to the Dome. Throw all the records out because you never know how teams respond there," Parkinson said. "No matter what, it will be a lot of fun. I'm so proud of this team."
There was non-stop rain throughout the contest, and it led to a combined zero passing yards.
The Hawks out-gained AHSTW 130-103 on the ground, but Noun Harder's punt return touchdown and the Vikings' three turnovers were the difference.
Lynnville-Sully (11-0) led 8-0 after the first quarter. Noun Harder's 59-yard punt return TD came with 2:48 to play in the period. Kyle Squires added a two-point conversion run to give the Hawks a lead it wouldn't surrender.
The ball was on the ground a lot in the game. But the Vikings (10-1) were the only team to turn the ball over.
Squires' 2-yard touchdown run with 1:47 left in the half put the Hawks up 14-0 at the break. Squires finished with 43 yards and the score on nine carries.
Noun Harder's night included 92 rushing yards on 22 carries. His second TD of the night came on a 1-yard run with 7:20 to go in the fourth.
Parkinson set up the touchdown with a bit of misdirection. Squires, Lane Fisk and Bryce Richards set up "lead" blocks on the right side of the field, but Noun Harder reached paydirt with a sprint to the left.
"The line play was very big. Without the line we have, I don't think we make it this far," Fisk said. "They have a good line, too, but we were just gritty all night.
"We live for the rain at Lynnville-Sully. This feels amazing. The school hasn't been to the Dome since 1986. I love that we came out with the win in our last game on this field."
The Hawks weren't perfect against the Vikings. They went three and out on their first possession.
AHSTW got a big gain on third and 16 but Luke Sternberg fumbled the ball. The Hawks couldn't take advantage of the short field though and turned the ball over on downs.
The Vikings' next possession ended on a sack by C.J. Nikkel. The punt to L-S was returned to the end zone by Noun Harder.
"Field position was huge and we had it all night," Parkinson said. "Coming into the game, we wanted to win three things — field position, time of possession and turnovers. And we did all three things."
The Vikings lost a fumble on their first possession of the second half.
The Hawks turned it over on downs though. They drove the ball to the AHSTW 2-yard line but went backwards after multiple penalties and a couple of negative plays.
"No matter what, we knew it was going to be a slugfest," Parkinson said. "Hats off to AHSTW. That's a good team. Some of the conditions might have changed their plans, but we weren't able to run what we wanted to run either. It was a great equalizer, but at the end of the day, I think our guys just played unbelievable."
The Hawks' defense held the Vikings' strong rushing attack to 103 yards. Kyle Sternberg completed three passes for zero yards and rushed 11 times for 31 yards. Luke Sternberg, who came into the game with more than 1,700 rushing yards and 25 rushing TDs, was limited to 73 yards on 13 carries.
Fisk led the L-S defense with 10.5 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss. The Vikings' offense drove past the 50-yard line only a few times in the game.
"Our defensive line got a big push, and I just watched the guards and tried to fill the holes the best I could," Fisk said. "The defense was tearing it up."
Squires registered six tackles and two tackles for loss and Nikkel finished with three tackles, one sack and a fumble recovery. The other two Viking fumbles were recovered by Richards and Jager Huyser.
Huyser had four tackles and three tackles for loss, Richards registered a pair of tackles for loss and Conner Maston collected three tackles.
"We said to each other before the game that if we can control the line of scrimmage, we'll win the game," Conner Maston said. "We did that for the most part. Those guys played great and we were able to get it done.
"It feels amazing. I have never felt anything like this before. It's the best feeling of my life."
Maston was a big factor on special teams as he averaged 37.5 yards on his four punts. And, he put multiple punts inside the 15-yard line.
"They make or break a game. It's so important," Maston said about special teams. "Every aspect of the game is important, but you can't rule out special teams. I just wanted to get the ball off as quickly as I could. It was hard to kick it tonight. The ball slipped out of my hands a few times. I think I caught one with my chest."
Notes: Parkinson said the Hawks practiced with wet footballs all week, anticipating a rainy night. L-S appeared to be better built for wet conditions. "I think we are built for the Dome, too," Parkinson said. "Out here on this surface, we knew it was going to be wet. We kind of knew what to expect." ... AHSTW stands for Avoca, Hancock, Shelby, Tennant and Walnut. The Vikings came into the night scoring no fewer than 28 points in a game this season but were shut out by the Hawks' stout defense. ... Both teams had six first downs in the game. ... The Vikings' defense was led by Nick Denning and Henry Lund, who each registered seven tackles.