Big improvement on offense helped the Ballard football team right the ship and get back to the playoffs in 2013.
Last season Ballard struggled through a 2-7 season – winning only one district game and missing the playoffs for the first time since 2007 - after averaging just 18.4 points and 245.22 yards per game. This fall a much stronger offensive line and running game enabled Ballard to make significant gains in its offensive production.
As a result the Bombers went 5-5, finished fourth in Class 3A District 4 with a 3-3 record and returned to the playoffs.
"It was a fun and satisfying year," Ballard head coach Al Christian said. "We’re back where we belong."
At the start of the season it looked like Ballard might be in for another long year, after the offense was kept off the scoreboard in a 13-0 loss to Webster City. But that changed in a hurry as the strong running of tailback Jacob Nethers helped the Bombers pounded out 416 total yards in a 33-27 home victory over Carlisle in week two.
Ballard capitalized on that momentum to win its next two games.
The Bombers stomped Saydel on the road by a 40-0 score in its 3A District 4 opener. They followed that with their biggest victory in several years – a 27-24 homecoming win over then-No. 3 Norwalk in non-district play.
A powerful Boone team snapped Ballard’s streak by handing them a 35-14 loss at Huxley on Sept. 27. The Bombers came back to easily handle South Tama by a 34-13 score, but tough contests against 3A District 4 powerhouses Grinnell and Dallas Center-Grimes loomed ahead.
Ballard struggled defensively against Grinnell and then sputtered on offense versus DCG. Grinnell topped Ballard by a 49-21 score and DCG blanked the Bombers by a 26-0 margin.
That left Ballard needing to knock off Newton on the road in the final regular season game to secure a playoff spot. With everything on the line, the Bombers took their game to another level and dominated the Cardinals, winning by a 33-13 margin to punch their ticket to state.
In the opening round of 3A playoffs, Ballard faced No. 2 Clear Lake on the road. The Bombers were defeated by a 35-7 score, but the loss did nothing to take away from what the team was able to accomplish during the season by making it back to the playoffs.
"Our players learned to work through adversity and get better," Christian said. "All five of our losses came to teams ranked in the top 16 of 3A. I saw a lot of improvement in many of the guys this year, and they proved some people wrong."
Christian said the biggest highlights of the season were getting to the playoffs and the win over Norwalk. The biggest obstacles the Bombers had to overcome were the tough schedule and consistency on both sides of the ball.
"We ran the ball well and played everybody tough," Christian said. "But we gave up too many big plays and never played four quarters when we needed to."
On offense Ballard’s production was clearly better than the previous two seasons – neither of which saw Ballard average better than 19.8 points or 250 yards per game.
Going against their tough schedule the 2013 Bombers averaged 20.9 points and 304.4 yards per game. Ballard was especially tough on the ground, rushing for an average of 234.3 yards.
Nethers was the catalyst for Ballard on offense. Running behind an improved offensive line led by senior Kirklyn Kohrt and junior Alex Silberstein, Nethers rushed for 1,457 yards and 15 touchdowns on 284 carries in his senior season.
Nethers’ best game came in the win over Carlisle as he amassed 305 yards and all four Bomber touchdowns on 44 carries.
Junior Isaiah Johnson gave Ballard a strong No. 2 back. Johnson picked up 572 yards and six touchdowns on 93 carries.
Zach Thompson stepped up at fullback. In addition to providing great blocking the senior ran for 227 yards and one touchdown on 39 carries.
Sophomore back Kolby Jensen and senior receiver Mason Edwards were the other Bombers to get multiple carries. Jensen ran for 72 yards and one touchdown on nine carries and Edwards picked up 28 yards on eight rushes.
Senior Coy Baker took over at quarterback for Ballard this season. It took some time for Baker to get adjusted as the Bombers’ signal caller, but he became a reliable weapon as the season progressed.
Baker completed 39 of 110 passes for 666 yards and seven touchdowns with just four interceptions. Nethers also threw four passes, completing three for 35 yards with one interception.
Edwards and tight end Cole Wilson were the top receiving threats for Ballard. Edwards had 14 catches for 287 yards and two touchdowns and Wilson made 10 grabs for 119 yards and two scores.
The senior quartet of Tanner Petersen, Matthew Poots, Tyson Pritchard and Mason Jensen also helped out at receiver. Petersen had six catches for 93 yards, Poots made five grabs for 52 yards and one touchdown, Pritchard had four grabs for 82 yards and a score and Jensen hauled in one 56-yard touchdown catch.
On defense Ballard gave up 23.4 points and 292.7 yards per game. Those numbers were slightly down from last year when the Bombers allowed 20.3 points and 252.3 yards per game behind the leadership of all-state linebacker Alex Macki.
Junior linebackers Marcus Johnson and Ben Claussen and senior defensive lineman Tyler Kyhl stepped up to anchor the Bomber defense this fall.
Johnson led Ballard with 151 tackles – including 79 solo stops – and he also had two fumble recoveries and one interception. Claussen made 121 stops and Kyhl finished with 82 tackles and three tackles for loss.
Linebacker Spencer Struve came up with 69 tackles, two tackles for loss and a team-high three fumble recoveries. Quinton Erickson contributed 68 tackles and two fumble recoveries, Mark Goldberg delivered 52 stops and intercepted one pass, Lane Volkman finished with 34 tackles, Kenny Randolph produced 32 and Brandon Brown added 28 plus two stops behind the line.
Nathan Macki (18), Kolby Jensen (12) and Landon Manfull (10) each added 10 tackles apiece. Macki also recovered a fumble.
Mason Jensen, Pritchard and Mitchell Broer led the Ballard secondary. Jensen had 32 tackles, a team-high five interceptions and a fumble recovery, Pritchard recorded 10 stops plus three interceptions and Broer wound up with 52 tackles and one interception.
In special teams play Andrew Rasmussen made 20 of 28 extra points and Brandon Kane was 1 of 2. Kane also punted 36 times for a 35.9-yard average and Erickson averaged 31.3 yards on four punts.
Christian said it will be tough to lose a large senior class that helped get the program back on track.
"I’m proud of them for coming back after last year’s tough season and happy they got us back into the playoffs," Christian said. "Some of them showed great leadership through some of the tough times we faced."
But now that the program has good momentum going the Bombers will be eying another playoff run in 2014.
"It could be a good year," Christian said. "With returning players, a JV that was 7-1 and freshman that were 8-1 we have the potential to be good."