I8FA State Finals: Polo vs Orangeville
Polo sparks 2nd half comeback to down Orangeville for back to back I8FA titles
When the season opened up and I8FA had 5 more NUIC teams in the league the talk was about how well these NUIC teams would do. Apparently the media panel that puts together the state rankings for I8FA never received that memo, and were looking at River Ridge and Polo alone based off the spring season.
It took just 3 weeks into the season for the NUIC to have 3 teams ranked in the top 4, and a total of 4 teams ranked in the top 7. By week 4, the top 2 teams were Orangeville and Polo, and a total of 5 teams were then ranked inside the top 7. From there the rest is history as we never saw less than 4 teams ranked in the top 5 the rest of the season.
Polo's road to the finals was different, as they had no competition from the NUIC teams to go up against on their path to Monmouth. They did, however, have to get through previous champion and runner-up Milford-Cissna Park. The Bearcats were finally at full health from a few issues they had to work through earlier in the season, but the Marcos survived a shootout win, 62-52. They then faced preseason favorite, West Central, who also faced some setbacks during the regular season, but found their way into the semifinals. Once again Polo rose to the challenge on the road with a big 50-14 win to put them back into he state championship for the 2nd year in a row.
The Broncos had to manage themselves through a couple rematch games that were lopsided during the regular season, starting off with Hiawatha, where they beat the Hawks by the exact same score, 56-8. The 2nd round brought on Martinsville, who many down that way felt this was the best team they had. The Broncos decimated them 48-20 in the quarterfinals. The semifinal showdown with NUIC opponent Amboy was very close in the 1st half before the Broncos pulled away for a 34-12 win.
Entering the state championship game, and not seeing Polo and Orangeville play each other this season, the only thing you could look at were common opponents. That large eye opener was the only blemish on Orangeville's schedule, the 56-26 loss to Milledgeville. On the other scope, Polo had a close win over Amboy, whereas Orangeville controlled Amboy in their 1st meeting.
Looking at both teams you knew they were going to run the ball, as that is what led them to this point. And seeing both teams play that rugged, hard nosed, smash mouth football in wing T and I formations restructured to the 8-man game only screams NUIC Football.
A game that showcased 3 of the top running backs in the I8FA play was surprisingly put on the back burner by the play of the defense. Orangeville came out in their typical 3 man front, while Polo featured their 4 man front, and both were explosive early on as they took turns neutralizing the line of scrimmage.
The part of the defense that stood out the most for the Marcos was the play of Wayde Reimer on the interior and the backside pursuit of Avery Grenoble, who seemed to be launched by a missile on every play. Cayden Webster and Tyler Merdian helped extend the edge to allow for backside pursuit by Grenoble and Wyatt Queckboerner.
The Broncos answered that with solid play up front by Jared Stubbe and Ryan Guy, but Nate Anderson did an unbelievable job on the edge. Gunar Lobdell was consistently from his safety position in support and Jake George attacked the gaps to cut off Grenoble in the rush game.
Something would finally give though, as Lobdell would get a carry to his right and hit the hole hard. He was in the 2nd level before he was touched, but he powered through for a 30 yard TD run. Gavin Roth put up the PAT kick to give Orangeville a 7-0 lead with 1:20 left in the 1st quarter.
The defense on both sides would continue to turn it up, as both teams would be forced to punt on their final 2 possessions of the first half with Orangeville taking that 7-0 lead into the break.
The Broncos would come out and force Polo to punt on their 1st possession of the 3rd quarter. They would take over at the Marco 37 yard line and begin driving down the field. The Marco defense would come up with a stop at their own 8 yard line on 3rd down, which brought Roth out to kick a field goal. The 25 yard field goal was good, but a flag on the play for roughing the kicker gave Orangeville a 1st and goal at the Marco 4 yard line.
A holding penalty and an unsportsmanlike penalty against Orangeville would back them up and stall them out. Roth would attempt a 34 yard field goal, but it would come up short and give the Marcos the ball at their own 20 yard line.
Polo would get the spark they needed as Grenoble would rip off a 72 yard run to flip the field. Brock Soltow would add a 13 yard run followed by Grenoble getting the Marcos on the board from 4 yards out with 3:12 to play in the 3rd quarter. The 2 point try failed, but Polo cut the deficit to 7-6 in favor of Orangeville.
Shortly into the 4th quarter, clinging to a 7-6 lead, Orangeville would turn the ball over on downs. Not able to get much going on the ground, the Marcos went to the air. Tyler Merdian was trying to connect with Brock Soltow, but Carson Rote was underneath the route for the interception and would return it to the Marco 29 yard line.
On the very first play from scrimmage, Blake Folgate would get the give up the middle, but the ball popped out and Grenoble was all over it for the Marcos at their own 27 yard line.
Polo would try to go to the run game, but Orangeville had them on lockdown. Merdian would go the air, connecting with Queckboerner for 7 yards. Then he would connect with Grenoble for 24 yards, moving the ball across midfield. A few more stalled run attempts led to Meridian connecting with Soltow for 31 yards and giving the Marcos 1st and goal. Grenoble would punch it in from 2 yards out to give Polo the lead 12-7 with 4:47 left in the game. The 2 point try failed, but the damage was done.
Orangeville would manage to gain 2 yards on 4 plays and turn the ball over on downs with 2:38 to play and allow Polo to run out the clock.
The Marcos claimed their 2nd I8FA title in a row, becoming the 1st team to win 2 titles in the short lifespan of I8FA play. They have gone 28-2 over the past 3 seasons, and both seasons that allowed playoffs to be played they have gone 25-0.
Orangeville controlled a large portion of the game, and were just as worthy to be a champion. They finish as the runner-up in their first I8FA season with a record of 11-2.
We have found out that Cambridge and Rockford Christian will be joining the I8FA league next fall, and they are anticipating team participation to be up to 28 teams for the 2022 season. If you haven't become a fan yet keep watching, because Polo and Orangeville, along with other matchups throughout the season, have shown us that the 8-man game is still football, and it is a lot of fun to watch.