Back on the right track.
That was the theme of Creston/O-M’s football banquet Sunday night, perhaps the last of coach Dick Bergstrom’s 33-year career in Creston.
Having filed for early retirement at the end of this school year, Bergstrom’s long run directing the Panthers to 175 wins, four district championships and nine playoff seasons appears to have ended with this year’s substate qualifying team that finished 5-5.
That was a big step forward from an injury-plagued 1-8 campaign in 2008. Bergstrom and other members of the staff praised this group of Panthers for taking it upon themselves to steer the program back to familiar territory.
“I played in this district (Lewis Central) and I’ve considered it the toughest 3A district in the state,” said defensive coordinator Brian Morrison. “With the exception of Harlan, I can’t think of any program that has had the longevity of success, that would have the football trophies this program has.”
Bergstrom did not address his personal situation Sunday, other than to say he and assistant Galen Zumbach came into the district together 33 years ago, and would “apparently” go out together. (Under teaching staff early retirement stipulations, Bergstrom would have to also resign coaching contracts, and could only return if rehired after four months, or if he would get involved as a volunteer.)
Instead, Bergstrom focused on the efforts of this team that finished the regular season 5-4 after stumbling to a 1-3 start.
Injuries had decimated last year’s team that dwindled from a varsity squad of 42 players to 25 dressed for the final game. Eight straight defeats was unusual for a program that had recently gone 17 straight seasons without a sub-.500 record, with a losing record only twice in the previous 22 seasons.
“Our biggest concern coming into this year was that we had learned how to lose,” Bergstrom said. “We had to get that out of our system and get back on the right track.”
Improved attendance at the summer weight program and success in team camps paved the way for the revival, Bergstrom said.
The opening two quarters of the season were spectacular, opening up a 28-0 lead over Chariton. But that win ended up being 28-27 when Chariton missed a late field goal, followed by a double-overtime loss at ADM and 33-0 home setback to Lewis Central.
The turning point was a 14-6 homecoming win over a Glenwood team that went on to place second in the district behind Harlan.
Creston/O-M was 3-1 down the stretch, with an overtime win at Atlantic, a 31-29 triumph over Winterset and a 28-20 victory at Clarke that clinched a substate berth by placing fourth in the district in front of LC. It was a difficult week for the team, dealing with a tragedy — the death of JV sophomore receiver David Reeves.
The only interruption in the late-season string of success was a 44-0 loss against a Harlan team facing Carroll today in the state semifinals.
Then, Bergstrom said, “one of those nights” occurred in a 66-2 substate loss against a Sioux City Heelan team that narrowly lost to Harlan in the quarterfinal round, 21-14.
That stinging defeat with seven turnovers did not take away from this season’s accomplishments, Bergstrom said.
“When I look back at 5-5, coming off 1-8, we see it as success,” Bergstrom said. “In my eyes, these young men did wonders for our football program. These seniors did everything we asked of them and helped us get better. We progressed a long way and set the stage for the young guys to continue that progress and get where you want to be — playing tomorrow in the UNI-Dome.”
Seniors Kevin Irr and Nick Neitzel earned first-team all-district awards. Irr had the third-best receiving season in Creston records with 43 catches for 433 yards and four TDs. He also rushed for 371 yards and four more TDs, and scored 34 kicking points.
Junior quarterback Luke Eblen had the school’s seventh-best passing yardage season by tossing for 1,392 yards in 143-of-293 passing with 12 TDs and 17 interceptions. Despite playing only five games and part of another because of a collarbone injury, Seth Pals had 333 yards receiving on 23 catches with five TDs along with 183 rushing yards. Promising sophomore tight end Collin Bevins hauled in 23 passes for 333 yards and a pair of TDs.
Neitzel had a team-high 79 tackles, nine for losses.
Several assistants who introduced players Sunday spoke of their appreciation of working with Bergstrom, including Zumbach for all 33 years, Steve Birchard for 18 years and Brian Morrison for the past seven seasons.
Seniors — Spencer Bakerink (2), Jared Bevins (3), Tyler Downey (1), Jackson Foreman (2), Kevin Irr (3), Bendik Kajander (1), Travis Kipp (3), Keaton Lundquist (2), Ryan Maitlen (2), Nick Neitzel (3), Seth Pals (3), Tyler Pettit (2).
Juniors — Chase Blazek (1), Luke Eblen (2), Jordan Hayes (2), Jordan Leach (1), Alec Paup (2), Derek Pellman (1), Nick Ray (2), Will Reasoner (2), Kolton Thatcher (2), Michael Tucker (2).
Sophomores — Collin Bevins (1), Jonathan Breda (1), Andrew Palmer (1), Evin Scadden (1), Alan Smith (2), Brad Weis (1).
Freshman — Luke Neitzel (1).
Managers — Breanna Beck (1), Cassandra Cosenza (1), Melissa Lindley (2), Korri McCaulley (1), Marissa Merrill (2), Mary Jo Schroeder (2).
Participation awards — Imani Deal, Cody Bristow, Alex Cheers, Alex Davis, Dylan Hower, Ben Landers, Eric Lanning, Keegan Lohoff, Caleb Reed, Jalen Sawtelle, Kolby Shaw, Tyler Sullivan, Brandon Utley.
District 8 Awards
First team — Kevin Irr, running back and kicker; Nick Neitzel, defensive line.
Second team — Jackson Foreman, offensive line; Seth Pals, defensive back; Luke Eblen, quarterback; Collin Bevins, tight end; Kolton Thatcher, linebacker.
Honorable mention — Jared Bevins, linebacker; Ryan Maitlen, defensive line.
Academic all-district — Kevin Irr, Nick Neitzel, Seth Pals.
Comments from Creston/O-M head coach Dick Bergstrom in introducing seniors from the 2009 season Sunday night:
Spencer Bakerink — "He turned himself into an outstanding athlete by working hard. He was willing to suit up for freshman games as a sophomore to gain experience, and became a player who helped us on varsity as a junior."
Jared Bevins — "Our emotional leader. He played a lot for us on varsity as a sophomore, missed some time last year with injuries, and really came on for us over the summer at the Simpson team camp. He had a good season and can play at the next level if he chooses."
Tyler Downey — "Played as a ninth-grader and then took two years off. That's difficult to do, but in coming back as a senior he played a lot for us in the defensive line."
Jackson Foreman — "His junior year he grew up and got more physical. I can't think of a better practice attitude on our team. He competed hard in games and started for us the last half of the season."
Kevin Irr — "He goes 100 mph and never came off the field. He's our punter, our placekicker, returns punts and kickoffs, and plays offense and defense. He would just get hammered and bounce right back for the next play. As a coach you can ask nothing more from a player."
Bendik Kajander — "Came to us from Norway and wanted to try football. As a soccer player he tried kicking, but he also got into other drills and wanted to see what it was like to be a player."
Travis Kipp — "He was our long-snapper for three years and I never worried about our snaps. It is such an important, but often overlooked part of the game. He also was a good player at tight end and on defense wherever we needed him, linebacker or defensive end."
Keaton Lundquist — "I have as much respect for him as any player on our team. He was our center a year ago, had some trouble with snaps, showed at the team camp he could be a really good player. He moved to guard and had an excellent season."
Ryan Maitlen — "Last winter he grew up as an athlete with a good wrestling season. He was a good football player for us this year."
Nick Neitzel — "His combination of explosiveness, strength and speed is rare. Last year he was held back by injuries, but he was dedicated to the therapy he needed to take care of it and had an outstanding season. He has the tools to play at the next level."
Seth Pals — "Played for us as a sophomore, made second-team all-district as a junior and got injured this season. He came back in time to get in a little against Clarke and played a lot in our substate game. We were a better team when he was on the field for us because he made other teams worry about him."
Tyler Pettit — "He consistently works hard and performs at the best of his ability. Sometimes when you are not the biggest or the fastest kid on the team, there is a place for you if you show effort like that. Any successful team needs players like that."