Ballard endured a rough finish to the 2018 high school football season, but the Bombers also showed flashes of greatness that bodes well for the future of the program.

Ballard finished the season at 4-5 overall. The Bombers went 1-4 in their first season of Class 3A District 8 competition.

The program had to face big challenges before the season even began.

Corey Vespestad and Kyle Howard took over as co-head coaches, replacing longtime coach Al Christian. In their first year they had to deal with facing a whole new slate of opposition with the district realignment, as well as a new playoff format that went off RPI rankings for the first time and only automatically included district champions/co-champions.

“We had a short offseason, which made it a challenge getting the players ready for August,” Vespestad said. “But with our experienced staff and great player attitudes, we able to hit the field running week one.”

Ballard showed tremendous resolve in starting the season 4-1. The Bombers fell off track down the stretch — losing their final four games — but they were highly competitive in the final two games, which still gave them some positive momentum heading into the offseason.

“The wins and loses don’t reflect the overall success of our team,” Vespestad said. “We overcame a lot of adversity and continued fight week in and week out. As co-head coaches, we were very proud of how we competed and never gave up.”

The Bombers began the season with an impressive 34-15 road win over Boone. They dropped a heartbreaker to Carroll in a 9-7 defensive battle in their home opener the following week, but came back to win another low-scoring affair over Dallas Center-Grimes, 15-7, at Adel.

The following week Ballard picked up its most exciting win of the season, downing Winterset, 32-31, in overtime at Winterset to conclude the non-district portion of the schedule.

District play began Sept. 21 with Ballard facing Gilbert on homecoming night at Huxley. The Bombers were on top of their game that night, crushing the Tigers by a 48-23 score.

The dominant win over Gilbert wasn’t able to give Ballard enough of an edge heading into two road games against quality Bondurant-Farrar and Carlisle teams on Sept. 28 and Oct. 5. The Bombers struggled in both outings, losing 34-10 to Bondurant-Farrar and 49-21 against Carlisle.

Ballard returned home on Oct. 12 to face eventual district champion Norwalk. Instead of throwing in the towel after their lopsided losses the previous two weeks, the Bombers stood up to a powerful Warrior team and pushed them to the absolute limit.

The Bombers ended up suffering a 40-32 loss in two overtimes to the Warriors.

A big rivalry game with North Polk closed out the season for Ballard. It was an evenly played affair that saw North Polk just make a couple more plays in the end to hand the Bombers a 30-26 setback.

Vespestad said his biggest highlights were seeing his team rally around the Ballard community during some tough times and coming together as a team. The overtime win over Winterset and homecoming drubbing of Gilbert were the biggest highlights on the field.

The Bomber coach was also proud of how well the upper and underclassmen came together.

“The seniors did a great job leading the inexperienced juniors and sophomores on the field,” Vespestad said. “The younger guys were quick to learn and ended up making a big impact on the field.”

For the season, Ballard averaged 25.0 points and 355.6 yards per game on offense. The Bombers were especially strong on the ground, running for 272 yards per game.

Reece Huen was Ballard’s most explosive player on offense.

Huen rushed for 623 yards and four touchdowns on 7.2 yards per carry. He also led the team in receiving, making 23 catches for 336 yards and two touchdowns.

Senior running back Skyler Noftsger provided Ballard with a 1,000-yard rusher. After running for 852 yards a year ago, Noftsger stepped up to rush for 1,073 yards and 10 touchdowns on 6.0 yards per carry in 2018.

Sophomore Connor Drew took over at quarterback and was one of the top dual-threat signal callers in the district.

Drew completed 59 of 112 passes for 747 yards and six touchdowns with just four interceptions. Drew also ran for 526 yards and seven touchdowns on 4.5 yards per carry.

Kegan Odden was a dangerous receiving weapon for Ballard. Odden made a team-high 26 receptions for 286 yards and two touchdowns.

Aaron Kinshaw ran for 144 yards and one touchdown and Jack Luster caught five balls for 84 yards and two scores in their senior seasons. Junior Nic Edwards made three grabs for 44 yards.

Seniors Jesse Hugee, Gabe Shelton, Donny White, Jacob Smith and Joe Hofbauer did all the dirty work up front, helping Ballard put up solid numbers offensively. Senior Sam Andrews and sophomore Lucas Maire also helped out on the Bomber offensive line.

On defense, Ballard allowed 26.4 and 306.6 yards per game. The Bombers totaled six interceptions and fumble recoveries apiece and they compiled seven sacks.

Sophomore defensive back Sam Petersen had a big first year as a varsity starter. Petersen led the team with 67 tackles and also had Bomber-best totals for interceptions and fumble recoveries with three apiece.

Hofbauer tallied 59.5 tackles. He led Ballard in tackles for loss (10) and sacks (3).

Andrews and Sam Salasek came through with 51 and 49 tackles respectively for Ballard. Andrews also recorded six tackles for loss, two sacks and an interception his senior year and Salasek finished with four tackles for loss.

Sophomores Logan Harmeyer and Mason Murphy compiled 47.5 and 46 tackles respectively. Harmeyer added eight tackles for loss, two sacks and a fumble recovery and Murphy chipped in two stops behind the line.

Senior defensive back Brooks Fleischmann came up with 35.5 tackles and two interceptions, and junior Rylee Davidson finished with 35 tackles, a fumble recovery and one stop behind the line. Odden delivered 25 tackles and one tackle for loss from the secondary and senior defensive lineman Logan Volkmann recorded 21.5 tackles, three stops behind the line and a fumble recovery.

Seniors Kenny Smith and Blake Hegna tacked on 15.5 and 14 tackles respectively. They each had one tackle for loss.

On special teams, Brenden Vincent was 22 of 26 on extra points and he made four field goals with a long of 37 yards. Junior Felix Rautland was 1 of 2 on extra points.

Drew averaged 30.3 yards on 32 punts with a long of 44 yards. Noftsger returned five kickoffs at 30.6 yards per pop with one touchdown, Huen averaged an incredible 48 yards on three returns and Kinshaw brought back 14 kicks for an average of 16.6 yards.

Next season, Ballard must replace a large senior class numbering 21 players.

“(The) seniors were great leaders that helped us overcome a lot of adversity this year,” Vespestad said. “They did an awesome job showing the younger players what Ballard Football is meant to be. We couldn’t be more proud of their leadership and competitiveness.”

But there will still be a lot of talent coming back and Vespestad said his team has one primary focus heading into the offseason.

“To continue to grow as a staff and team,” Vespestad said.