HUXLEY - For most of the night, Ballard had Class 3A District 8 leader Norwalk on the ropes Friday at Rich Strouse Field in Huxley.
The Bombers absolutely outclassed the Warriors well into the third quarter, building a 25-3 lead to stun a Warrior team that was unbeaten in district play. But Norwalk showed why it’s leading the district down the stretch.
The Warriors mounted a furious rally to tie the game by the end of regulation and they eventually prevailed in two overtimes, 40-32.
“Our kids just played really hard,” Ballard co-head football coach Kyle Howard said. “We played probably our best 24 minutes of football in the first half. We just couldn’t match it in the second half.”
Norwalk closed within 25-10 on a 21-yard touchdown pass from Max Sutcliffe to Adam Connelly midway through the third quarter. Ballard did a good job containing the Warriors on their next two drives by forcing a punt and making them turn the ball over on downs inside the red zone.
But on its fifth drive of the half, Norwalk marched 52 yards to pull within 25-17 with 4:33 left in the fourth quarter after Sutcliffe ran it in from a yard out. Ballard tried to run some clock on its next drive and got a huge break when Connor Drew found Jack Luster for 34 yards on a 3-and-10 from its own 15, but the Bombers were eventually forced to punt.
Norwalk took over from its own 20 with 1:56 to go and went the full 80 yards in just 52 seconds to tie the score. A 48-yard reception by Scott Anderson set up a 3-yard Sutcliffe touchdown run.
The Warriors tried a reverse pass on a 2-point conversion attempt, but it was called back on a penalty. It didn’t matter, though, as they converted when play resumed, with Sutcliffe hooking up with running back Carter Schmidt.
Ballard tried to answer in the final seconds, but Drew was intercepted. Norwalk fumbled the ball away after the interception, but the Bombers were unable to advance it and the game headed into overtime.
The Bombers took the ball first in overtime and Drew ran it in from two yards out on third down to give his team a 32-25 cushion. On Norwalk’s possession, Ballard forced third down from the 10, but Sutcliffe found Marker in the end zone on the third-down play to force a second overtime.
In the second overtime Norwalk took the ball first and Sutcliffe immediately went back to Marker for six. Instead of attempting an extra point, Norwalk bluffed and went for two, with Ethan Carlson finding Dylan Wolfe for the conversion to put the Warriors up eight.
Ballard got a 3-yard run from Drew on second down on its possession in the second overtime, but could do no more. The Bombers caught a tough break on fourth down from the seven when Reece Huen slipped as Drew fired a pass over the middle that ended up incomplete to end the game.
“We were able to do a lot of things we wanted to do in the first half, but Norwalk is a really well-coached team and they made some adjustments,” Howard said. “We struggled with that in the second half.”
After suffering lopsided losses to Bondurant-Farrar and Carlisle in their previous two games, the Bombers were expected to endure another long night Friday. But they showed they can play with anybody by putting a huge scare into the Warriors.
“Our kids just keep fighting,” Howard said. “I was really proud of how they responded after a tough loss (at Carlisle) last week.”
The Bomber defense was especially gritty. They shut down a potent Norwalk aerial attack for most of the night, but Sutcliffe, Marker and crew were too good to be contained all game.
“Hats off to the defense,” Howard said. “They played terrific.”
Mason Murphy had 10.5 tackles, Sam Petersen 9.5, Sam Andrews and Kegan Odden 5.5 apiece and Rylee Davidson five for the Bombers. Harmeyer finished with four tackles, a tackle for loss and a fumble recovery; Logan Volkmann made two tackles for loss and recovered a fumble and Sam Salasek chipped in four tackles and a stop behind the line.
On offense, Ballard did a great job pounding a smaller Warrior team on the ground. The Bombers produced three 100-yard rushers in Drew (121 yards), Huen (120) and Skyler Noftsger (101).
Huen and Noftsger had touchdown runs of 15 and three yards in the first half. Brenden Vincent added a 34-yard field goal for Ballard’s other points of the half.
Sutcliffe ended up throwing for 285 yards and running for 125. Marker had nine catches for 120 yards and Connelly four for 60.
Norwalk improved to 5-3 overall and clinched the 3A District 8 title by improving to 4-0 in the district with one game left. Ballard fell to 4-4 and 1-3 respectively.
The Bombers will host main rival North Polk in its final game of the season.
“We’re excited we get to close out our season at home for our seniors,” Howard said. “We’re looking forward to next week.”
North Polk is also 4-4 overall and 1-3 in the district. The game will take place at 7:30 p.m. next Friday, back at Rich Strouse Field.
Norwalk 40, Ballard 32 (2 OT)
N 3 0 7 15 7 8 - 40
B 7 11 7 0 7 0 - 32
N - Mason Lucas 28 FG, 5:01.
B - Reece Huen 15 run (Brenden Vincent kick), 1:27.
B - Vincent 34 FG, 4:13.
B - Skyler Noftsger 3 run (Noftsger run), 1:34.
B - Connor Drew 1 run (Vincent kick), 8:50.
N - Adam Connelly 21 pass from Max Sutcliffe (Lucas kick), 6:49.
N - Sutcliffe 1 run (Lucas kick), 4:33.
N - Sutcliffe 3 run (Carter Schmidt pass from Sutcliffe), 1:04.
B - Drew 2 run (Vincent kick).
N - Zach Marker 10 pass from Sutcliffe (Lucas kick).
N - Marker 10 pass from Sutcliffe (Dylan Wolfe pass from Ethan Carlson).
Team statistics N B
Rushes-yards 31-162 55-355
Passing 24-41-0 6-14-1
Passing yards 288 85
Total yards 450 440
Fumbles lost 2 0
Punts-average 4-45.8 5-32.4
Rushing: N - Max Sutcliffe 23-125, Zach Marker 1-18, Christian Nicholson 5-17, Carter Schmidt 2-2. B - Connor Drew 17-121, Reece Huen 15-120, Skyler Noftsger 20-101, Aaron Kinshaw 3-13.
Passing: N - Sutcliffe 23-40-0-285, Ethan Carlson 1-1-0-3. B- Drew 6-14-1-85.
Receiving: N - Marker 9-120, Adam Connelly 4-60, Scott Anderson 1-48, Sam Rohrer 3-23, Carter Schmidt 3-19, Ethan Carlson 1-9, Nicholson 2-6, Dylan Wolfe 1-3. B - Kegan Odden 5-51, Jack Luster 1-34.
Tackles: N - Carson Raper 8, Wolfe 7, Nate Heckart 7, Ethan Vetterick 6, Matt Schuchard 5. B - Mason Murphy 10.5, Sam Petersen 9.5, Sam Andrews 5.5, Kegan Odden 5.5, Rylee Davidson 5.
Fumble recoveries: B - Logan Harmeyer, Logan Volkmann.
Interceptions: N - Vetterick.