It may not have showed up in the win column, but the Roland-Story football team made steady progress to set the stage for a better future in 2019.
After losing a strong senior class last season the Norsemen finished 1-8 overall and 0-5 in Class 2A District 7.
“The biggest challenge was replacing 20 seniors and having to fill 18 new spots,” Stensland said. “Lots of new faces and young players learning on the fly.”
But they played their best ball in the last game of the season to give the returning players something to build off of heading into next season.
“We obviously wanted to win more games than we did this year, but I was really thankful to work with a great group of seniors who led our team every week,” Roland-Story head coach Aaron Stensland said. “They worked hard and practiced well every week, studied their opponents and tried to be as physically ready as possible through the weight room and working through some injuries.”
Roland-Story’s victory came in its season opener against Clarion-Goldfield-Dows. The Norsemen dominated the Cowboys, winning by a score of 39-6.
The next week Roland-Story lost at Gilbert, 35-12. In Week 3 Roland-Story put up a great fight against eventual playoff qualifier Prairie City-Monroe before falling at home, 19-6.
In their final non-district game the Norsemen were handed a 25-14 setback by Iowa Falls-Alden.
District play opened with a 31-0 loss to eventual district co-champion and playoff qualifier West Marshall. The next week Roland-Story fell at home to Union, 42-12.
Benton, also a district co-champ and playoff qualifier, dealt the Norse a 42-7 loss on Oct. 11. Roland-Story put up a good fight early against Vinton-Shellsburg in its final home game, but the Norse offense sputtered down the stretch in a 25-7 loss.
Roland-Story wrapped up the season at Nevada. Nevada was playing for a potential playoff berth and a shot at a piece of the district title, but the Norsemen out played the Cubs for 2 ½ quarters before losing a 27-14 battle.
“Every year there will be some wins and some losses, but our kids in this program do all the right things and they are a joy to be around everyday and to coach because they are so hungry to learn and get better,” Stensland said. “These kids have given so much to the program and invested in their own time and energy that we knew they would play hard no matter what every week.”
Roland-Story averaged 11.1 points and 180.2 yards per game on offense. The Norse ran for 111.5 yards per game and threw for 68.7.
Senior running back Kyle Selby and junior back Zach Twedt were the leading rushers for Roland-Story. Selby ran for 521 yards and four touchdowns on 4.5 yards per carry and Twedt 474 yards at 4.2 yards per pop and five scores.
Quarterback Wyatt Bunn ran for 120 yards and one touchdown. He also completed 24 of 53 passes for 341 yards and two touchdowns.
Freshman Luke Patton took over as the Norse single caller in the second half of the season. He completed 27 of 88 passes for 346 yards and one touchdown.
Junior receiver Adam McIlrath and Twedt were the top receivers for Roland-Story.
McIlrath made 11 catches for 302 yards — an impressive average of 27.5 yards per catch — and two touchdowns. Twedt caught 22 passes for 260 yards and one score.
Selby added three grabs for 40 yards, Ty Thompson four for 29, Bunn three for 28 and Caleb Markwardt five for 20.
Junior guard David Downs was the team’s top offensive as an all-district first-team selection. Senior Nic Hansen was named to the all-district second team and junior Jimmy Philipsen honorable mention as the other top Norse linemen.
On defense Roland-Story surrendered 28 points per game.
Twedt was named the district Defensive Skill Position MVP. He made an amazing 113.5 tackles with three stops behind the line at linebacker/strong safety.
Bunn and his younger brother Will both made the all-district second team in the defensive backfield. Wyatt tallied 26.5 tackles and an interception and Will 33 tackles and a fumble recovery.
McIlrath had 71 tackles and an interception, Selby 29.5 tackles and two interceptions returned for touchdowns along with a fumble recovery and Philipsen 29 stops and a pair of fumble recoveries. Markwardt finished with 24.5 stops, Jackson Sterle 20.5, Downs 19.5, Patrick Gonzales 16.5, Logan Schnurr 15, Thompson 14.5, Nic Hansen 12 and Jayden Macdonald 11.
Schnurr also recovered two fumbles, Thompson came through with an interception and Macdonald recovered a fumble.
Wyatt Bunn handled the punting duties, averaging 32.1 yards on 41 punts. Macdonald and Gonzales both made three extra points and Will Bunn converted one.
Twedt averaged 19.8 yards on 15 kick returns, McIlrath 19.7 on six and Selby 18.9 on 11.
Roland-Story only loses eight seniors.
“I couldn’t have asked for eight better young men to lead us through this season,” Stensland said. “There is no doubt every single one of them will go on to do tremendous things in their lives.”
With the bulk of the team returning the Norsemen figure to be much improved in 2020.
“I am excited for next season,” Stensland said. “We return some experience and great leadership.”