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Lack of big plays hurts Comets in playoff loss

North Polk’s Kris Bower brings down Gilbert’s Zachary Becker from behind during the Class 2A second-round playoff game between the Comets and Tigers Monday in Gilbert. North Polk lost by a 36-6 score to finish the season at 9-2. Photo by Joe Randleman
North Polk’s Kris Bower brings down Gilbert’s Zachary Becker from behind during the Class 2A second-round playoff game between the Comets and Tigers Monday in Gilbert. North Polk lost by a 36-6 score to finish the season at 9-2. Photo by Joe Randleman
North Polk’s Grant Schiltz comes down with a reception just before Gilbert’s Darin Rinehart (22) can bring him down during the Comets’ second-round playoff game with the Tigers Monday. Photo by Joe Randleman
North Polk’s Grant Schiltz comes down with a reception just before Gilbert’s Darin Rinehart (22) can bring him down during the Comets’ second-round playoff game with the Tigers Monday. Photo by Joe Randleman

GILBERT – For one half, defense was enough to keep North Polk in the game against Gilbert in the second round of the Class 2A playoffs Monday.

But the inability to come through with any success on the offensive side of the ball burned the Comets in the second half. The Tigers scored two quick touchdowns late in the third quarter and North Polk never had an answer in a 36-6 loss.

North Polk, a 27-20 victor over Gilbert during the regular season, gave up a long opening touchdown drive and then held its ground the rest of the first half.

The Comets countered Gilbert’s opening score with a touchdown drive of their own as Garrett Moeckly finished off a 63-yard drive with an 8-yard touchdown run. North Polk sputtered offensively the rest of the half, but the Comet defense then held a potent Gilbert offense to just one field goal during that stretch.

A mistake in special teams gave Gilbert two more points in the second quarter as a bad snap on a punt resulted in a safety for the Tigers. But when the half was over, North Polk was still right in the game, facing a minor 12-6 deficit.

“The first half was kind of a back-and-forth thing,” North Polk head coach Evan Groepper said. “They got six more points than we did, but we thought we’d be alright.”

The second half was a different story.

North Polk continued to play tough defensively, but the problems on offense caught up with the Comets midway through the quarter.

On its first series of the second half the North Polk defense was put in an undesirable position as Gilbert took over at the Comet 38 yard-line. But the Comets stood firm and forced a punt.

Gilbert pinned North Polk deep on the punt as the Comets took over at their own seven. They moved the ball to their own 30, where they faced a fourth-and-3.

On fourth down Comet quarterback Cole Jackson went back in a quick punt formation designed to give him the option of either a rugby-style punt or a roll-out pass. After punting on previous possessions Groepper rolled the dice this time as Jackson rolled out and attempted a pass.

It fell incomplete, allowing Gilbert to take over with great field position again. This time the Tigers capitalized as powerful quarterback Jared Gescheidler broke up the middle for a 20-yard touchdown run with 4:49 remaining in the third.

The Comets were force in yet another punting situation on their next offensive drive. Jackson put the ball inside the Gilbert 20, but a 22-yard run by Gescheidler on third-and-8 gave the Tigers some breathing room.

Then Gescheidler burned the Comets with his arm. Dax Hatfield snared a pass over the middle off a deflection and raced 58 yards to pay dirt, giving Gilbert a commanding 26-6 lead with 2:25 left in the third.

Things continued to snowball south for North Polk in the fourth quarter as James Howell nailed a 41-yard field goal and Christopher Culek added a 30-yard touchdown run to break the game open.

“Late in the game they started physically moving us, but some of that was just panic out of our guys,” Groepper said. “You get down and you have to play differently than when it’s a knotted up game.”

North Polk finished with only 189 yards of offense. Jackson was harassed into his worst passing outing of the season in completing just 10 of 30 attempts for 113 yards with two interceptions.

“We couldn’t get a play,” Groepper said. “That’s what it came down to. If we could’ve just found a way to get a play or two in there it’s a different game where we’d be competitive.”

Moeckly ran for 53 yards on 15 carries as North Polk’s only real running threat during the game. Blake Brauer caught three passes for 45 yards, Landon Schuessler made three grabs for 34 yards and Grant Schiltz had two catches for 18 yards for the Comets.

Not having injured receiver Russell Greene – Jackson’s top target – played a factor in North Polk’s lack of success on offense. But Groepper was quick to point out it was far from the only reason for the Comets’ struggles.

“I feel bad for him and the rest of the guys because they wanted him with them, but you know we’ve played that way (without Greene) the last couple weeks,” Groepper said. “We had enough, we just didn’t make enough plays. You can tell Gilbert has gotten better as the year’s gone on and they’re healthier than they’ve been. They deservedly won.”

Gilbert totaled 474 yards of offense.

Gescheidler had a huge game by rushing for 181 yards and completing 9 of 16 passes for 167 yards with one interception. Hatfield caught four passes for 91 yards, Wyatt Rhoads made four grabs for 74 yards and Zachary Becker ran for 59 yards on 14 attempts for the Tigers, who will take an 8-3 record into Friday’s 2A quarterfinals against No. 1 Kuemper Catholic (11-0).

North Polk finished the season with an impressive 9-2 record. It was the fourth year in a row the Comets had reached the second round of the playoffs.

“We shared the (Class 2A District 7) crown and these guys have won a playoff game every year they’ve been in high school,” Groepper said. “And a lot of those guys played three of those years. There are not many 2A schools in the state that have done that. I’m proud as heck of the seniors – most of those guys were playing with a significant injury late in the year and they just had to play through it. They were dinged up, but they just kept fighting.”

Gilbert 36, North Polk 6

NP 6 0 0 0 – 6

G 7 5 14 10 – 36

Scoring

First quarter

G – Zachary Becker 3 run (James Howell kick), 6:22

NP – Garrett Moeckly 8 run (kick blocked), 4:51

Second quarter

G – Howell 30 FG, 7:39

G – Safety, 6:08

Third quarter

G – Jared Gescheidler 20 run (Howell kick), 4:49

G – Dax Hatfield 58 pass from Gescheidler (Howell kick), 2:25

Fourth quarter

G – Howell 41 FG, 9:49

G – Christopher Culek 30 run (Howell kick), 5:20

Team statistics NP G

Rushes-yards 21-76 46-307

Passing 10-30-2 9-16-1

Passing yards 113 167

Total yards 189 474

Fumbles lost 0 1

Individual statistics

Rushing: NP – Garrett Moeckly 15-53, Matt Cox 4-12, Cole Jackson 2-11. G – Jared Gescheidler 22-181, Zachary Becker 14-59, Christopher Culek 4-44, Wyatt Rhoads 1-15, Austin Barrientos 2-4, Darin Rinehart 1-3, Ben Hinners 2-1.

Passing: NP – Jackson 10-30-2-113. G – Gescheidler 9-16-1-167.

Receiving: NP – Blake Brauer 3-45, Landon Schuessler 3-34, Grant Schiltz 2-18, Austin Williams 1-10, Cox 1-6. G – Dax Hatfield 4-91, Rhoads 4-74, Hinners 1-2.

Fumble recoveries: NP – Braedon Ingersoll.

Interceptions: NP – Schiltz. G – Hatfield, Jackson Breen.

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