October 18 is a date that’s etched into the minds of the River Ridge football team. The Polo Marcos remember that day, too, but it hasn’t taken up much of their focus this week.
On that Friday night, Polo defeated the Wildcats 34-8 in a Week 8 showdown in Polo as the Marcos kept their record unblemished in their first season of 8-man football. They went on to finish 9-0 and earn the No. 2 seed in the 8-man playoffs, earning a first-round bye before rolling past Lowpoint-Washburn 50-16 in the second round last weekend.
Polo will again host River Ridge – the third straight home game the Marcos have played a ‘Wildcats’ – in the 8-man semifinals tonight. This time, there’s a trip to the 8-man state title game on the line.
“I think they’re going to be ready to go after they lost last time,” Polo senior Scott Prerost said. “But it’s a big game with a lot on the line, so everyone’s going to be fired up. It’s a big opportunity on a big stage, and I think the atmosphere is going to be great.”
The first meeting between the teams this season was closer than the final score indicated. Polo (10-0) led 12-0 at halftime, and held that lead only after keeping the Wildcats out of the end zone from the 2-yard line at the end of the first half.
Polo coach Jeff Bumsted knows River Ridge (8-3) is eager to get another shot at the Marcos after they pulled away for the win last month.
“They’re going to be very fired up,” Bumsted said. “Their kids are all jacked up, and they think they can win the game – and our kids know we can win the game – so it’s going to be a battle. It’s going to be who survives the elements the best, and who really wants to be on the field.”
While River Ridge is likely using that loss as motivation, Polo is not giving it much of a thought this week.
“That’s not what we’re thinking about,” Prerost said of that first meeting. “We’re focused on playing this game specifically, and I think it’s just going to be a tough game on both sides of the ball.”
Junior Caleb Rhodes leads the Wildcats rushing attack, with 1,665 yards and 27 touchdowns on 149 rushes. Quarterback Bryton Engle has run for 822 yards and 8 TDs, and thrown for 778 yards and 13 more scores, with just four interceptions all year. Sam Whitmer (18 catches, 367 yards, 5 TDs) and Rhodes (22 catched, 293 yards, 7 TDs) lead the receiving corps.
“They’re probably going to try and run the ball outside a lot, and probably pass a little bit,” Polo junior center/nose tackle Brady Clark said. “We just need to trust each other, read the keys correctly, and have everybody do their job. We have to stop their run first, then think about their pass.”
“They’re a really tough team,” Prerost added. “They hit hard, they know how to play football, and I think they have a lot of really skilled players who can make big plays.”
The newest wrinkle Bumsted and his coaching staff have seen on film is the quarterback run. Engle only ran the ball a half-dozen times in the Week 8 game, but he’s been the Wildcats’ main ball carrier in the playoffs.
“I think they’re going to pull and trap a lot,” Bumsted said. “They’re going to try and hit us on the long ball, lull us to sleep running the football and then try and hit us 1-on-1 down the field with the long ball. Their quarterback is going to get more involved, … and this time he’s going to be a serious threat that we’re going to have to stop.”
Polo’s quarterback is also a serious threat that must be stopped. Senior Tucker Mumford has run for 705 yards and 16 touchdowns, and thrown for 221 yards and six scores. His ability to read the defense and choose the right back to get the ball to has been the engine that runs the Marcos’ offense all season long.
Jace Coffey leads Polo with 901 rushing yards and 13 TDs, while Alex Davies (573 yards, 10 TDs) and Jesse Powell (403 yards, 6 TDs) will also get quite a few carries on Saturday.
“Our run game’s pretty strong,” Clark said. “The game starts at the line, and our line gets off the ball pretty quickly and knows what they’re doing, and that’s going to be big for us.
“We’re looking to fix everything we messed up and didn’t do correctly the last time we played them, just clean up our mistakes.”
Bumsted isn’t worried about his players’ ability to do just that. He’s been impressed with the attitude he’s seen on the practice field, and believes his team is in the right frame of mind for the rematch.
“These kids are taking nothing for granted, and they’re pretty focused right now – probably the best I’ve seen them this season,” Bumsted said. “We went through the film and they’ve changed some things, and we’re changing some things. So it’s not going to be the same old, same old when they come down here, and we know that they’re going to come with something different to try and beat us – and we’re going to change some of our stuff, because we know we can’t stay the same either, even though we beat them last time.”
In the end, it will come down to players making big plays in crucial situations. It’s something both teams have had success with all season long: Polo has outscored its opponents 444-78 in its nine games, while River Ridge has a 472-282 scoring edge in its 10 games.
“We have to execute on both sides of the ball,” Prerost said. “We have to fill holes on defense and block who we’re supposed to block on offense – and just play through the whistle.
“I think with this cold weather, it’s going to be a little bit of a hard-knock game, but I think it’s going to be fun to play in.”
8-man playoffs, semifinal
River Ridge at Polo
When: 7 p.m. today
Radio: 94.3 FM
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