It was business as usual for the North Polk football team in 2013 as the Comets returned to the playoffs for the fourth season in a row.
North Polk ended up 9-2 – its best record in the four-year playoff run. The Comets also shared a district championship for the first time since 2007 by going 5-1 in Class 2A District 7 to finish in a three-way tie for first with Gilbert and West Marshall.
Once playoff competition began, North Polk was able to advance to the second round for the fourth time in succession.
"We had a great season and I’m very proud of what we accomplished," North Polk head coach Evan Groepper said. "We had 16 seniors who were great leaders and have now been a part of four straight seasons where we have won a playoff game."
The Comets opened the season by edging out 2A playoff qualifier – Bondurant-Farrar – in a 35-33 thriller at Alleman. The Comets followed that up with another win over a playoff team, this time topping Greene County by a 27-13 score at Jefferson.
North Polk opened 2A District 7 play with a 29-20 road victory over Roland-Story. The Comets followed that up with their third victory over a playoff team by edging Gilbert in a 27-20 battle.
That earned the Comets the No. 10 ranking in 2A and set up a showdown with No. 2 West Marshall at State Center on Sept. 27. North Polk did a good job containing all-state Trojan running back Duncan Ferch for the most part, but the Comets were unable to stop a balanced West Marshall attack, suffering a 35-14 setback.
The Comets rebounded with a hard-fought 48-29 homecoming victory over its fifth playoff-bound foe of the season in Nevada. The game was North Polk’s first on its brand-new turf field.
The last three games of the regular season saw the Comet defense dominate. North Polk whipped I-35, South Hardin and East Marshall by scores of 40-7, 29-0 and 38-13.
In the opening playoff round, North Polk took on Greene County in a rematch at Jefferson.
The game marked the fourth time the two teams had played in the past two years as they also met up in the opening round of the playoffs last year. North Polk made it a perfect 4-for-4 against the Rams in that span by pulling off a 20-19 victory.
That set up another rematch – this time against a Gilbert team that had won 5 of 6 games since its loss to North Polk. This time Gilbert clearly had the upper hand, scoring a 36-6 victory at Gilbert to end North Polk’s season.
"We had to battle in a lot of our games this year," Groepper said. "We started with a come-from-behind victory against a good Bondurant-Farrar team and that ended up being one of the four games that we trailed at some point in the second half and ended up winning. I think that shows how well our guys were able to handle adversity this year. We won a playoff game on the road, won our last game at our old field and first one on our new one and ended up going undefeated at home."
The key to the season on both sides of the ball was a number of quality playmakers.
"I felt that the biggest strength to this team was balance," Groepper said. "We had great balance from player to player and that allowed us to not have to hide or protect players that were at a lesser skill level. It also allowed us to be diverse in how we attacked the other team."
On offense North Polk averaged 28.5 points and 329 yards per game. The Comets put up 188 yards rushing and 141 passing yards per game.
Quarterback Cole Jackson had a big senior season for North Polk.
Jackson completed 120 of 218 passes (55 percent) for 1,543 yards and 14 touchdowns with eight interceptions. He also ran for 317 yards and seven touchdowns on 80 carries.
Jackson had to go a good portion of the season without top receiver Russell Greene. Greene missed seven games, yet still led North Polk in receiving with 28 catches for 355 yards and four touchdowns.
Seniors Grant Schiltz and Landon Schuessler and junior Blake Brauer stepped up in Greene’s absence. Schiltz finished with 26 catches for 305 yards and one touchdown, Schuessler had 25 grabs for 278 yards and two scores and Brauer made 10 catches for 188 yards and one touchdown.
Braedon Ingersoll tacked on three catches for 40 yards and one score. Tight end Austin Williams made five receptions for 50 yards and a touchdown and Wyatt Johnson added two catches for 38 yards.
Veteran fullback Garrett Moeckly was the leading rusher for North Polk and sophomore tailback Matt Cox stepped up to become a big-play weapon both rushing and receiving.
Moeckly ran for 836 yards and 14 touchdowns on 177 carries. Cox picked up 600 yards and five touchdowns on only 83 carries and he caught 19 passes for 281 yards and four scores.
Alec White gave North Polk a reliable backup tailback as he picked up 325 yards and three touchdowns on 51 carries.
On defense North Polk yielded 280.7 yards per game. The Comets did a solid job of bending, but not breaking in allowing 20.5 points per game and they compiled 35 sacks and forced a total of 22 turnovers.
Senior linebacker Jon Lackore and senior defensive lineman Collin Hoshaw anchored North Polk on defense.
Lackore led North Polk in tackles (103), tackles for loss (19) and sacks (7) and he also recovered one fumble. Hoshaw drew a lot of attention from opposing offensive linemen and he still ended up with 52 tackles, eight tackles for loss, five sacks and a fumble recovery.
Ingersoll finished with 68 tackles, nine tackles for loss, two interceptions and a defensive touchdown. Brauer had 61 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, seven sacks and two fumble recoveries.
Schuessler led the Comets with three interceptions and he also made 58 tackles as a defensive back. Williams tallied 57 tackles, four sacks and one fumble recovery, Kris Bower delivered 47 tackles, three stops behind the line, one fumble recovery and interception apiece and Jamaal Hansen produced 45 tackles, nine tackles for loss and two sacks.
Dakota Woodard ended up with 36 tackles and one fumble recovery for a touchdown and Greene recorded 31 tackles and one interception. Schiltz had 26 tackles and an interception and T.J. Krehbiel registered 24 tackles, five tackles for loss and a fumble recovery.
Jackson helped out the Comet defense with 19 tackles and an interception. Masson Weiss had three sacks, Ben Bruggeman totaled 13 tackles, a fumble recovery and an interception and Ryan Polich recovered two fumbles. Moeckly and Zach Houseman each recovered one fumble for North Polk.
In special teams play sophomore Carter Hartwig made 30 of 42 extra points and he made a 30-yard field goal.
The Comets did their punting by committee. Jackson punted 17 times for a 35.8-yard average, Colton Determann averaged 23.7 yards on 12 punts, Schuessler averaged 32.9 yards on seven punts and Cox punted four times for a 39.5-yard average.
Next season North Polk has a lot of work to do if it hopes to run its playoff streak to five years. The Comets lose several talented playmakers, but with the strength of the program built up over the past few years the expectations will still be high in 2014.
"The players that come back have seen the blueprint for success & are going to try to keep the program at a high level," Groepper said. "We have some big shoes to fill, but do bring back some contributors, as well as have some guys hungry to take the place of the graduating seniors."