The breaks didn’t go North Polk’s way during the 2017 high school football season as the Comets suffered three overtime losses and finished with just two victories.
North Polk went 2-7 overall and 1-6 in Class 3A District 6. The Comets were 0-3 in overtime games — all three losses coming in district play.
The season began on a positive note as North Polk knocked off Roland-Story in a 14-6 defensive battle at Alleman. But the next week the Comets endured their first overtime heartbreak, falling to Perry in a wild 38-31 double-overtime affair.
After receiving a bye in week three, North Polk was dealt its second overtime loss in a row to open district play Sept. 8. The Comets fell at Grinnell by a 24-23 score.
The following week North Polk was overpowered by a strong Norwalk team, 42-14. But the Comets bounced back with their most impressive outing of the season Sept. 22, traveling to Nevada and whipping a Cub team that finished with a winning record by a 42-21 margin on its homecoming night.
“For a positive highlight, we played two great games against the (Heart of Iowa Conference) teams that were on our schedule and ended up being 2-0 in those games,” North Polk head football coach Evan Groepper said.
Eventual district runner-up and playoff qualifier Carlisle blanked North Polk on Sept. 29 by a 31-0 score in Alleman. Knoxville then dealt the Comets their third overtime setback Oct. 6 by a 36-29 decision.
“Trying to mentally and emotionally stay focused after losing three overtime games was very difficult,” Groepper said. “At some point, as humans, it becomes hard to get back on the horse and have the same enthusiasm and optimism that you started the year with.”
Three-time defending 3A state champion and eventual 3A District 6 winner Pella shut out North Polk, 41-0, at Alleman on Oct. 13. The next week, North Polk concluded the season with a 34-13 home loss to Bondurant-Farrar.
North Polk saw its win total drop from 2016 when the Comets went 5-4. But last year was its first competing in 3A after moving up from 2A and the Comets are still getting used to facing larger schools on a nightly basis.
“This year we continued to make strides as we transition as a 3A football school,” Groepper said. “We moved backwards with wins and losses, but made progress in the quality of all aspects of the program.”
On offense North Polk averaged 292.1 yards per game. They ran for 168.1 yards and threw for 124 per game.
Senior tailback Mason Russell was the workhorse for North Polk on offense. Russell ran for 1,354 yards, 16 touchdowns on 223 carries — an average of 6.1 yards per rush — and he caught 20 passes for 222 yards and one score.
Colten Parkins completed 71 of 132 passes for 778 yards with four touchdowns and nine interceptions before getting injured late in the season. He also ran for 55 yards.
Logan Engebretson filled at signal caller after Parkins went down in the Carlisle game. Engebretson completed 26 of 61 passes for 331 yards with five interceptions, and he ran for 21 yards.
Junior Quentin Sommers was the leading Comet receiver. Sommers made 22 catches for 320 yards.
Ryan Fausch had 28 catches for 241 yards and one touchdown and Colin Swygman snared seven passes for 114 yards. Austin McArthur tallied nine catches for 91 yards, Tyler Sinclair four grabs for 38 yards and Sully Hartsook two touchdown receptions totaling 33 yards.
Jeff Lamp helped out in the backfield. Lamp ran for 84 yards and caught eight passes for 57 yards.
On defense, North Polk gave up 30.3 points and 336.4 yards per game. The Comets totaled 12 interceptions, 11 sacks and three fumble recoveries.
Defensive lineman Caleb Lomica came back from an ACL injury suffered last winter to lead North Polk in tackles with 56.5 in seven games. Lomica had 9.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and fumble recoveries apiece, and an interception.
Hartsook compiled 45 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and 0.5 sacks and Tyler Sinclair came up with 41.5 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, one sack and two interceptions — returning one for a touchdown. Lamp racked up 39 tackles, three tackles for loss and one sack and Russell delivered 38 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and two sacks.
Senior Alec Bolletta produced 27.5 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, one sack, two interceptions and one fumble recovery. Mark Cox added 24 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and three sacks and Parkins finished with with 23.5 tackles, one tackle for loss and two interceptions — returning one to pay dirt.
Sommers and fellow defensive back Eric Lackore registered 20 and 22.5 tackles apiece and Lackore also had two tackles behind the line. Sommers led the team in interceptions with four and Lackore picked off one pass.
Engebretson and Derek Van Roekel each chipped in 13.5 tackles apiece. Engebretson also had one stop behind the line and Van Roekel 2.5 tackles for loss and 0.5 sacks.
Swygman handled the kicking duties, making 16 of 19 extra points and two field goals with a long of 23 yards. Lamp averaged 32.7 yards on 23 punts and Sommers had nine punt returns for an average of 10.6 yards.
Russell averaged 25.4 yards on eight kickoff returns. Bolletta returned 12 kicks for an average of 20.2 yards.
Russell, Sinclair, Hartsook, Bolletta, Lackore, Van Roekel and the rest of the senior class will be tough to replace.
“We graduate a tremendous group of seniors,” Groepper said. “They were leaders on the team and continue to be in our building.”
But Lomica, Parkins and Sommers lead a strong group of underclassmen that will aim to get North Polk back to its winning ways in 2018.