Ballard wins 43-42 thriller over North Polk: Bombers get first district triumph in final home game

Joe Randleman
Ames Tribune
Eli Rouse

Ballard was without their starting quarterback and Division 1 offensive tackle and coming off its first loss to Nevada since 1999 entering its rivalry game with North Polk Friday at Rich Strouse Field in Huxley.

But despite all the adversity, Ballard dug down deep and found a way to get past their rivals from just down Highway 69.

A monster game from running back Eli Rouse sparked an incredible 43-42 Ballard victory in its final home game of the season. The Bombers trailed 35-21 heading into the fourth quarter, but they put up 22 points over the final 12 minutes and limited the Comets to just one touchdown over that span to pull off the comeback.

"It was a really fun game," Ballard co-head coach Kyle Howard said. "We had a great home atmosphere. I'm really proud of how our kids fought. North Polk is a really good team."

The win put Ballard at 3-4 on the season and 1-2 in Class 3A District 2.

Here is what we learned from the Bombers' dramatic victory:

Eli Rouse is a rising star

After rushing for only 46 yards through Ballard's first four games Rouse burst onto the scene at running back in a big way over the last two games for the Bombers.

Rouse ran for 137 yards two weeks ago against No. 5 Nevada. That performance was highlighted by an 85-yard touchdown run on fourth down during the second quarter. 

The talented sophomore took it to a whole new level against North Polk.

Rouse ran for 227 yards and four touchdowns on 37 carries. He did it without the services of Iowa verbal commit Kale Krogh at offensive tackle.

Krogh missed his second-straight game with an injury.

Rouse's performance took a huge load of junior quarterback Luke Hartsook, who was making his first varsity start after Ashton Hermann was injured against Nevada.

Hartsook holds steady

Rouse did most of the work, but Hartsook more than did his job to help Ballard prevail.

Hartsook completed 10 of 13 passes for 97 yards and two touchdowns managing Ballard's explosive attack. He threw one touchdown apiece to Jacob Ihe and Jayden Cattell.

Ihle made three catches for 42 yards and Cattell added two for 24. Bryce Haessig added four grabs for 20 yards and Chance Lande made one for 11.

Defense does just enough

Ballard had a tough time against North Polk quarterback Bryce Aspengren, receiver Sal Capaldo and running back Brady Miller.

Aspengren completed 20 of 28 passes for 266 yards and three touchdowns. Capaldo made 11 receptions for 174 yards and two scores and Miller ran for 136 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

But in the end the Bombers found a way to slow North Polk down just enough to help pull off the victory. Jayden Swain had 10 tackles, Blake Stover 9.5 and Ihle eight, with Swain and Stover also chipping in one stop behind the line apiece.

Algona is next

Ballard finishes up the season with two games on the road.

The Bombers have a tough challenge this week against Algona (5-2, 2-1). The Bulldogs were ranked 10th in 3A before a 28-14 loss to Nevada Friday.

"We need to continue to get better if we want to compete with Algona this week," Howard said.

Ballard and Algona are set to kick off at 7 p.m. this Friday in Algona.

Ballard 43, North Polk 42

North Polk    7      21        7        7 — 42

Ballard          6        8        7       22 — 43

Individual statistical leaders

Rushing: Ballard — Eli Rouse 37-227. North Polk — Brady Miller 18-136.

Passing: Ballard — Luke Hartsook 10-13-0-97. North Polk — Bryce Aspengren 20-28-0-266.

Receiving: Ballard — Jacob Ihle 3-42. North Polk — Sal Capaldo 11-174.

Tackles; Ballard — Jayden Swain 10. North Polk — Brayden Foster 13.5.