Defense, ground game lift Bombers past Cubs in 3A playoffs: Ballard wins rivalry battle, 28-7

Joe Randleman
Tri-County Times
Ballard quarterback Connor Drew celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the second quarter to give his team a 21-7 lead at the half over Nevada in the second round of the Class 3A football playoffs Friday at Goeppinger Field in Boone. The  No. 9 Bombers went on to defeat their old rivals, 28-7. Ballard (8-1) will face No. 7 Lewis Central (7-1) in the third round this Friday at Council Bluffs.

BOONE - It all came down to defense and the muscle up front on offense when Ballard took on Nevada in the Class 3A football playoff second round Friday at Goeppinger Field.

Ballard piled up 310 rushing yards and held Nevada under 200 yards of total offense to earn an impressive 28-7 victory.

“The defense shut them down and offensively we got it done on the offensive line,” Ballard quarterback Connor Drew said. “We were more physical tonight and that’s what you’ve got to do.”

 Nevada came out and hit Ballard in the mouth early. The Cubs went 80 yards on 15 plays, capped by a 26-yard touchdown pass from Blake Bottorf to Ayden Rhodes.

But after that it was all Ballard.

The Bombers answered Nevada’s first drive with a 65-yard scoring drive of their own finished off by a 1-yard Sam Petersen touchdown run. Petersen then showed off his speed on the next Bomber drive by racing 61 yards to paydirt.

Petersen ran up 100 rushing yards on just seven carries by the early stages of the second quarter, but he went down with an injury on Ballard’s fourth possession and was forced to leave the game after being helped off the field.

It didn’t matter. 

Gabe Christensen came in and pounded out 69 yards on 18 carries and Drew had 62 and one touchdown on 16 attempts. With those two methodically wearing down the Nevada defense Mason Murphy provided the big-play ability in Petersen’s absence, rushing for 82 yards on just six carries.

“Honestly, it’s all the offensive line,” Murphy said. “They’re working their tails off in practice everyday and they’re making us look good pretty much every game.”

Ballard led 21-7 at the half. The offense didn’t score in the second half, but it didn’t need to.

The Bombers held Nevada to just 113 yards after the game’s opening drive. The only points of the second half came when Ballard’s Nick Wacha blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown with two minutes left in the third quarter.

“It was pretty cool,” Wacha said. “As long as I’ve been playing football I’ve been wanting to get a touchdown on defense. It was awesome.”

Wacha also had five tackles. Murphy recorded 10.5 stops, Logan Harmeyer six, Jeremiah Wilkinson 5.5 and Connor Finch four.

Finch also broke up four passes and Harmeyer had two stops behind the line. Colby Calvert came away with an interception for the Bombers.

Austin Nelson (74) and the Ballard defense held Nevada to 193 yards in a 28-7 victory over the Cubs during the 3A playoff second round Friday at Boone.

“We have a lot of communication and guys executing their individual roles,” Wacha said of the Bomber defense. “There’s no one individual player, it’s 11 guys on the field kicking butt.”

Ballard improved to 8-1 with the victory. Nevada finished 6-3.

“Hats off to Nevada,” Murphy said. “They’re a great football team.”

Even though the team’s hadn’t played each other since 2015, Friday’s game felt like a big rivalry game. Ballard plays Nevada frequently in other sports, plus a former Ballard student - Marshal Sheldahl - is now blocking for Nevada.

“We know a lot of guys from that school,” Drew said. “Marshal left us, but he’s still our boy. We love him.”

Ballard defensive lineman Kale Krogh pressures Nevada quarterback Blake Bottorf on a throw during the Bombers' 28-7 win over the Cubs in the 3A playoff second round Friday in Boone.

Nevada head coach Andrew Kleeman was thoroughly impressed with Ballard.

“I think they have the potential to make a real deep run into the playoffs,” Kleeman said. “They’ve got a really good football team. Hope the best for them.”

He just wishes he could’ve played the Bombers at full strength. Nevada was missing a few key players and a couple more were playing at less than 100 percent.

“We’ve been really banged up and had a lot of changes within practice and personnel,” Kleeman said. “That certainly had an effect on the game. But I thought our kids played hard until the end. I’m super-proud of this group of kids.”

Bottorf threw for 137 yards, Caeden DaSilva made six receptions for 54 yards and Cooper Bovee had two grabs for 49.

Even though the Cubs came up short, they have a lot to build off of during the offseason. After sharing a district title in 2A last year, Nevada fielded its first competitive 3A team in a long time this season.

“I think this is only the beginning,” Kleeman said. “The best is yet to come for Nevada football.” 

Ballard will face No. 7 Lewis Central of Council Bluffs (7-1) in the 3A third round.

“If we keep playing like tonight we should be going all the way,” Wacha said. “Hopefully that happens.”

The Bombers and Titans will kick off at 7 p.m. next Friday at Council Bluffs.


Ballard 28, Nevada 7

N   7     0   0   0 - 7

B   7   14   7   0 - 28



First quarter


N - Ayden Rhodes 26 pass from Blake Bottorf (Rhodes kick), 4:56.

B - Sam Petersen 1 run (Obi Soash kick), 0:30.

Second quarter

B - Petersen 61 run (Soash kick), 10:49.

B - Connor Drew 1 run (Soash kick), 0:30.

Third quarter

B - Nick Wacha 7 blocked punt return (Soash kick), 2:00.

Team statistics N B

Rushes-yards 25-56 49-310

Passing 11-22-1 2-7-0

Passing yards 137 20

Total yards 193 330

Fumbles lost 0 0

Punts-average 5-36.0 3-28.3

Individual statistics

Rushing: N - Blake Bottorf 10-33, James Edwards 8-17, Caden Jones 6-10, Ayden Rhodes 1-(-4). B - Sam Petersen 9-100, Mason Murphy 6-82, Gabe Christensen 18-69, Connor Drew 16-62.  

Passing: N - Bottorf 11-22-1-137. B - Drew 2-7-0-20.

Receiving: N - Caeden DaSilva 6-54, Cooper Bovee 2-49, Ayden Rhodes 1-26, Grant Higgins 2-8. B - Nolan Schonhorst 2-20.

Tackles: N - Edwards 11, Caleb Kooiker 10, Cael Franzen 9, Jones 5.5, Bovee 4.5. B - Murphy 10.5, Harmeyer 6, Jeremiah Wilkinson 5.5, Nick Wacha 5, Connor Finch 4.

Interceptions: B - Colby Calvert.