Just missing out on the playoffs is going to sting a little right now for the Nevada football players and coaches.
Nevada earned a hard-fought 27-14 victory over an upset-minded Roland-Story team Friday to close out a 7-2 campaign and finish 4-1 in Class 2A District 7. But even with the win, the Cubs fell just short of qualifying for state via the RPI method used by the Iowa High School Athletic Association to determine qualifiers.
The nine district champions and top seven at-large teams determined by the RPI rankings formed the 16-team playoff field in 2A.
Nevada finished 17th in the final RPI rankings. With 20th-ranked Central Lyon/George-Little Rock earning an automatic berth as the 2A District 1 champion, the Cubs finished two spots shy of the final at-large qualifying spot.
Nevada’s score of 0.5628 was just a hair behind the final at-large qualifying score of 0.5688 by Spirit Lake. Iowa Falls-Alden also came up just short, finishing one spot ahead of the Cubs with a score of 0.5674.
“This is a team deserving to play in the playoffs,” Nevada head coach Andrew Kleeman said. “It is what it is and we can’t control any of that, but at the end of the day I know our kids deserve to play in the playoffs.”
The Cubs did what they were supposed to do on the field Friday. The victory over Roland-Story was a microcosm of their season.
The Cubs got down 14-7 to a gutsy Norsemen team midway through the third quarter after Roland-Story’s Kyle Selby returned an interception 60 yards for a touchdown. Nevada quickly pulled within 14-13, but starting kicker Kody Kruschwitz and his backup - Ayden Rhodes - were both out with injuries and the Cubs missed the point after to keep the Norsemen in front.
Nevada had to make up ground without three of their best playmakers in Kruschwitz, Rhodes and Lucas Rogers. And they did.
Keaton Fry, who began the year as the third-string quarterback, engineered three touchdown drives over the final 12 ½ minutes. He ended the game with four rushing touchdowns.
“Our team’s battled adversity the entire year,” Fry said. “We’re used to the atmosphere.”
The Nevada defense was also stout down the stretch.
After Roland-Story got down to the Cub 12 on a 53-yard reception by Zach Twedt Nevada made a clinching stand in the red zone during the final three minutes. Caden Jones coming up with the decisive play of the series when he sacked Norse quarterback Luke Patton on third down.
“We’re a brotherhood,” Nevada senior Noah Adelmund said. “We stood strong when we needed to.”
Nevada ran out the rest of the clock to ice the game. The Cubs may not have ended up making the playoffs, but they gave themselves a chance.
“We did what we could control - we won the game,” Adelmund said. “It just means a lot that we even had the opportunity to go to the postseason. It’s something we haven’t done in a long time.”
It certainly doesn’t take away from one of the best seasons in program history.
Nevada posted its best record since the 1992 team also went 7-2. The Cubs earned their first victory over a ranked team (then-No. 7 Benton in Week 6) since 1987.
“This is going to go down as a great season,” Kleeman said. “I’m just super-proud to coach this group of kids.”
The players and coaches certainly appreciated the bond they formed with each other while turning in a historic season for the program. There were a lot of hugs and tears following the traditional final walk across the field by the seniors after their last home game.
But that senior class can take pride in knowing it may have started something big at Nevada. The returning and upcoming players have a lot to look forward to in 2020.
“I really feel like we’ve turned the corner,” Kleeman said. “I hope it’s just the beginning for our football program.”