IOWA CITY — Pundits looking to make an early pick for the UNI-Dome later this fall should pay close attention to tonight’s non-district prep football game between Solon and Iowa City Regina.
Recently it’s been this simple: Win this rivalry game and hold up the state championship trophy. The last four winners (and one loser) between the Regals and Spartans went on to win the state title.
“They’ve been incredibly exciting football games over the last 4-5 years,” Regina Coach Marv Cook said. “I know they’ve made us a better football team. It makes for a fun and exciting atmosphere.”
Regina is top-ranked in Class 1A this season and owns a 29-game winning streak after a 47-0 rout of West Liberty last Friday. Class 3A No. 8 Solon edged Mount Vernon, 21-11, in its opener.
The two powerhouses, separated by just 11 miles on Highway 1, have combined for six championships in the last five years.
Both teams have jumped around recently, but this game has remained constant. Regina moved up to 2A to be with Solon in 2008 for two seasons. Then Solon went to 3A and both teams won titles in 2010.
Now Regina is back in 1A, but the rivalry dynamics still are there.
“It’s mutual respect,” Solon Coach Kevin Miller said. “Both programs have a great deal of respect and admiration for each other. We’re very similar in how we approach coaching.”
Miller’s program has even served as a model for Regina.
Cook particularly appreciates Solon’s subsistence and flexibility. The Spartans have found success over and over and over again, regardless of their class or district. Cook is trying to do the same thing.
“We saw up close and personal how great football can be played when Solon was at the pinnacle,” Cook said. “It’s been amazing what they’ve been able to do.
“They set the template on how it should be done and the quality of the coaches they have and the way they go about their business. We try to follow it as close as possible.”
For Miller, the impression might be too perfect.
Regina snapped the Spartans’ 42-game winning streak in 2010. Last year, the Regals thumped Solon, 35-9, in a road victory. Regina went on to win the 2A state title. Solon lost in the second round of the playoffs, failing to reach a championship game for the first time since 2005.
“Right now they’re doing it better than us, that’s for sure,” Miller said. “They’ve taken our template and made it better. That’s something we need to address.”
Last season’s loss and early exit still stings in Solon. Miller has challenged his team to return to the “Spartan Way” — a system of discipline, hard play, sound fundamentals and a pressing defense.
Miller said they’re close to getting back to that. Friday’s game at Regina might be the best litmus test.
“We were embarrassed last year,” Miller said. “They embarrassed us physically. They did what they wanted to do. We have to be better and we know that.”