PREP FOOTBALL: Sheldon's hopes end with loss

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa -- Beginning with an impressive opening drive, the ever-improving North Polk High School football team earned its way to Saturday's Iowa Class 2A state championship game, as the diversified Comets scored twice on long marches an...

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa -- Beginning with an impressive opening drive, the ever-improving North Polk High School football team earned its way to Saturday's Iowa Class 2A state championship game, as the diversified Comets scored twice on long marches and capitalized on four short-field situations to overwhelm Sheldon, 42-0, Monday afternoon in the semifinals at the UNI-Dome on the campus of the University of Northern Iowa.

It was the eighth consecutive victory for the Comets, who started the season 2-3, but have outscored their opponents by a commanding 280-33 margin during their winning streak.

"That team has really improved over the course of the season," Sheldon head coach Matt Meendering said about North Polk, which represents the central Iowa communities of Alleman, Elkhart, Polk City and Sheldahl. "They had the best line that we have played against all season and really handled us up front. Without question, North Polk was the better team today."

Entering the game, Comets' junior running back Noah Pickard (6-2, 200) had gained 1,464 yards on the ground and scored 16 touchdowns, while classmate Cody Moeckly (6-2, 180) had racked up 1,099 rushing yards and crossed the goal line 12 times.

It was expected that NP would run the ball hard -- which the Comets did on their opening drive.


But was not expected, was how well senior quarterback Lucas Hadaway (6-3, 185) would throw the ball.

Hadaway was 9-of-11 passing for 120 yards, including three touchdowns, giving the Comets a remarkable assortment of offensive diversity -- and effectiveness.

"We had not seen them pass that well before," said Meendering about the Comets. "Their receivers ran great routes and caught everything."

It was a 10-yard TD strike from Hadaway to sophomore Jacob Hadaway which capped a 10-play, 65-yard drive by NP on the game's first possession.

Following the first of six straight extra-point kicks by Andrew Wampler, the Comets owned a 7-0 lead with less than five minutes off the first-quarter clock.

Sheldon was unable to generate much offense of its own to counter the opening drive by NP, but the Orabs' defense came up with back-to-back stops on the Comets' second and third series.

Booming punts by NP's Trevor Hall helped the Comets maintain favorable field position and the hard-rushes of Pickard (18 carries, 106 yards) allowed the District 7 runners-up to sustain a 10-play, 72-yard drive through a nearly five-minute stretch of the second quarter.

Lucas Hadaway's 25-yard touchdown pass to Willie Ebert (four catches, 48 yards, two TDs) gave the Comets a 14-0 lead with 5:57 to play in the first half.


On Sheldon's fourth series, the Orabs received a strong 13-yard run from senior Michael Lovan (eight carries, 23 yards), but the drive stalled at their 45-yard line and Daniel Westphalen (six tackles, three assists) punted for a fourth time.

After another defensive stop by Sheldon, Hall's 63-yard punt pinned the Orabs at their own 11-yard line.

With 1:38 to play in the first half, a 15-yard pass completion from Sheldon sophomore quarterback Chris Balster to Ray Scott (two catches, 52 yards) moved the ball to 28. But the Orabs were unable to convert on a fourth-and-two from the 36 and the Comets took over on downs with 23 seconds left in the second quarter.

After a seven-yard run by Pickard, Lucas Hadaway and Jacob Hadaway connected on a 26-yard pass play and then Lucas Hadaway fired a strike to Ebert on a slant pattern over the middle for a two-yard score with eight seconds to play in the first half.

Three straight fumbles lead to three Comet TDs

Trailing 21-0, the Orabs received the football to begin the third quarter.

But Sheldon fumbled the kickoff and the Comets recovered at the Sheldon 22-yard line.

Two plays later, Pickard ran through several possible tackles for NP's fourth TD of the game.


On Sheldon's next possession, the Orabs fumbled on a handoff attempt and the Comets recovered at the 30.

It took NP five plays this time, but with 9:26 remaining in the third quarter, the score was 35-0.

The Orabs appeared to have a strong return going on the following kickoff, but a hard-hit by the Comets jarred the ball loose -- and again NP recovered and its offense went to work from the Sheldon 25.

In five plays, the Comets reached the end zone and with 4:48 on the third-quarter clock, the score was 42-0.

NP had scored four touchdowns in a span of seven minutes and 35 seconds (the last 23 seconds of the second quarter and the first 7:12 of the third), effectively sealing the fate of the Orabs.

"We put the ball on the ground more times today than we have in a long time," summed up Meendering. "When the wheels came off, they really came off."

Orabs drive 64 yards in 11 plays

Sheldon, however, mustered an impressive drive in the closing minutes of third quarter, moving the ball 64 yards on 11 plays, highlighted by a 29-yard catch by Jordan Dykstra and a 37-yard snag by Scott, as Balster completed long passes down each sideline.


Scott's catch down the left sideline gave the Orabs a first-and-goal at the NP three-yard line as the quarter came to a close.

The Orabs, however, were not able to punch the ball across, as the Comets' defense held.

Later in the fourth quarter, a 17-yard run by Cody Hatting (seven tackles, two assists) and a 13-yard scramble by Trevor Johnson highlighted a nine-play, 52-yard drive by the Orabs -- which ended at the NP 11-yard line with Sheldon's fourth lost fumble of the second half.

Sheldon linebackers Bruce McWilliams (seven tackles, five assists) and Austin Johnson (six tackles, two assists) were among the tackles' leaders for the Orabs, along with defensive end Westphalen and Hatting, whom Meendering said "made some big hits and played very well."

The Orabs had a seven-game winning streak snapped and finished the season with an impressive 11-2 mark, advancing to the state semifinals for the first time since 2005.

"This was a fun season with a great group of players, led by an outstanding senior class," praised Meendering about the Orabs. "These guys just loved to play football and they came together as an effective unit, which performed beyond our expectations -- they really became a team."

North Polk 7 14 21 0 -- 42

Sheldon 0 0 0 0 -- 0

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