Geographically speaking, Decorah is located about 80 miles northeast of Cedar Falls, a good 90-minute drive from the UNI-Dome.
However, for Solon and every other Class 3A team in Eastern Iowa, the road to the UNI-Dome and the state title game has gone straight through Decorah.
The Vikings have played for the 3A championship each of the past two seasons and won their fifth state title a year ago.
Second-ranked Decorah will bring an 11-0 record and a 25-game winning streak into tonight’s quarterfinal showdown with No. 7 Solon (10-1) at 7 p.m. at Viking Field in Decorah.
“We are looking forward to the challenge and we know it’s going to be a great challenge,” Solon coach Kevin Miller said. “They are a great football team.”
Solon knows a thing or two about state titles, itself.
The Spartans have reached the state title game five times in the past seven seasons, winning four times. Solon’s most recent title came in 3A in 2010, which was the last time Decorah didn’t appear in the title time.
While they haven’t met much over the past several years, these two perennial powers aren’t complete strangers.
Decorah defeated Solon 35-10 in the second round of the playoffs last year at Viking Field on its way to the state title.
The Vikings ran for 286 yards and three touchdowns in last year’s win over Solon.
“That is a team that embarrassed us physically, they just beat us around,” Miller said of last year’s meeting. “I think we are a little bit better equipped now to withstand some of that physical play.”
Solon enters tonight’s matchup riding a nine-game winning streak of its own that includes a 49-20 win over West Delaware in Monday’s second round.
The Spartans forced two turnovers and blocked a kick in the win over West Delaware and have forced 11 turnovers in their last four games, combined.
Solon has held five of its past six opponents less than 171 yards rushing. The only team to eclipse that mark was West Delaware, which rolled up nearly 200 of its 237 rushing yards in the second half against Solon’s second-string defense.
On the other side, Decorah has run for more than 240 yards seven times this season and eclipsed the 300-yard mark three times.
The Vikings average 246 yards per game on the ground and have scored 36 rushing touchdowns.
“It’s going to start with defense and special teams again,” Miller said. “That is where it has to start. We’ve got to shut them down and play within ourselves with the special teams.”
Decorah has been excellent at holding on to the ball this season, committing just eight turnovers in 11 games.
“They are well coached and they aren’t going to beat themselves, they just don’t,” Miller said. “They don’t turn it over, they are not going to give you great opportunities, so we have to maximize our ability to make plays that present themselves.”