Explosive passing game, improved defense help Roland-Story make playoff run in 2021

Joe Randleman
Ames Tribune
Quin Ante had a record-breaking year at quarterback to help Roland-Story go from winless a year ago to 4-5 in 2021.

The Roland-Story football team took a big step forward during its second season under the leadership of Matt Finn.

The Norsemen finished 3-6 overall and placed fourth in Class 2A District 7 with a 2-3 record. That is a huge upgrade for the previous two seasons when they were just 1-15 combined.

"We took a nice step as a program," Finn said. "I'm encouraged with the fight we showed throughout the season."

Roland-Story suffered a 48-20 loss to South Hamilton in its season opener. The Norsemen snapped a 16-game losing streak the following week with a 26-7 win over East Marshall in their home opener at Story City.

The Norsemen were no match for a Nevada team that ended up 9-2 and No. 6 in 3A in Week 3, suffering a 64-7 setback. They didn't stew on the loss though, coming back with two impressive victories to start district play.

Roland-Story won its 2A District 7 opener over Albia Sept. 17 with a 53-27 victory at Albia. The next week the Norsemen came back home and downed Chariton, 26-7.

Iowa Falls-Alden, third-ranked West Marshall and traditional power Prairie City-Monroe were too much for Roland-Story down the stretch. The Norsemen suffered losses by respective scores of 46-28, 50-21 and 43-20 to close out the regular season.

The two wins over Albia and Chariton were still good enough to place the Norsemen fourth in the district and earn them a playoff spot. They fell to powerhouse Greene County in the opening round of the 2A playoffs by a score of 55-14.

"There was a point in our season when we were sitting at 3-2 and were mostly healthy," Finn said. "Even with the expanded playoff format in 2A it's important to note that we got an opportunity at postseason this year and not everyone did, so that was big for our program. We hope to carry that momentum forward into the offseason."

Roland-Story still struggled with inexperience and depth issues at times. But a big-play ability on offense and improved play on defense made the Norsemen a lot more competitive than they had been the previous two seasons.

The Norsemen averaged 23.9 points and 318.7 yards and gave up 39.2 and 385.1 respectively. Roland-Story averaged just 10.7 points and gave up 43.8.

The record-setting pass-catch combo of seniors Quin Ante and Will Bunn set the tone for Roland-Story on offense. Ante set school single-season and career passing marks and Bunn did the same at receiver.

Ante completed 139 of 232 passes for 2,292 yards and 22 touchdowns with 12 interceptions and he ran for two scores. Bunn made 39 grabs for 1,003 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Carter Flattebo added 26 catches for 426 yards and three touchdowns. Jonovan Wilkinson made 25 grabs for 352 yards and two scores and Kale Lande added 24 for 307 and five.

Kale Lande caught 24 passes for 307 yards and five touchdowns as part of a talented receiving core for Roland-Story in 2021.

Luke Patton chipped in nine for 127 and one touchdown and Gavin Carpenter also made a touchdown reception.

Roland-Story was inconsistent running the ball. Wilkinson led the team with 297 yards and four touchdowns on the ground and Nick Butler added 227 yards and two scores.

"We showed plenty of big-play ability from many different positions on offense," Finn said. "But we will need to improve at ball control and sustaining drives."

On defense linebacker Hesston Johnson had 67 tackles and one interception and linebacker Tyler Isebrands added 58.5 stops. Lande contributed 32 tackles, two interceptions and a fumble recovery and Patton finished with 31 stops, five tackles behind the line and 2.5 sacks.

Colin Hansen contributed 28.5 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. Christian Eslick recorded 39.5 tackles, Logan Schnurr 21.5 plus a fumble recovery, Carpenter 16 plus an interception, Bunn 23.5, Parker Watts 22, Flattebo 19.5 and Dillon Lettow 15.5.

Aaron Peyton chipped in one fumble recovery.

Wilkinson averaged 22.3 yards on 17 kick returns, including a 92-yard return for a touchdown. Bunn was 4 of 7 and John Martin 3 of 5 on extra points, Patton averaged 28.6 yards on 17 punts and Elijah Belle averaged 31.4 yards on nine punts.

Next season will see Roland-Story need to reboot on offense with the losses of Ante and Bunn. New leadership must also emerge.

"Senior leadership is really critical to nearly every team's success, and this year was no exception," Finn said. "I think the biggest thing these seniors showed our younger guys this year was how mental and physical preparation really translate to results. Will Bunn and Quin Ante executed their portion of the offensive game plan with great precision and ownership. Colin Hansen certainly led our offensive line with toughness and communication, and Tyler Isebrands and Logan Schnurr showed how just playing hard every snap makes you a valuable contributor. But on the whole the senior class were good teammates to the younger guys and created a strong team atmosphere."

But the Norsemen expect to continue growing as a program in 2022.

"I don't think anyone on our squad is satisfied with the progress we made," Finn said. "I think it's possible to be grateful for this past season, which we are, but also have our sights set on taking that next step. We're going to improve because we are going to work hard together."